CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – A witness who saw a University of Virginia student open fire on a bus returning from a field trip told police the gunman targeted multiple victims – many of them football players – and shot one while he was sleeping, prosecutors said. in court Wednesday.
The details were revealed when the suspect was brought to the court of first instance, and the university announced that students had returned to class that day. He was canceling Saturday’s football game because of the fatal shooting.
A witness who was shown a photo of the shooting suspect identified Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. as the gunman, prosecutors said. Three football players were killed and one player and a student were injured in the violence that broke out on Sunday night.
Jones, a former football player, appeared in court Wednesday via video link from a local jail. He has not entered pleas to several of the charges against him and said he plans to hire an attorney. A judge ordered him held without bond and appointed a public defender until he gets a private attorney.
University officials and police said Thursday that Jones, 23, joined about two dozen people on Sunday on a field trip from the Charlottesville campus to watch the game in the nation’s capital, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) away. As their bus returned to campus, authorities say Jones opened fire, killing LaVell Davis Jr., DeSean Perry and Devin Chandler..
Police said Jones fled the scene of the shooting, ending a manhunt and a 12-hour campus lockdown. This worried many students. He faces three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges.
The violence at the state’s flagship public university set off days of mourning among students and faculty, the broader Charlottesville community and other supporters. Classes resumed Wednesday as the school announced it had canceled its final home game of the season scheduled for the weekend against Coastal Carolina. No decision has yet been made on his final game against Virginia Tech on Nov. 26 in Blacksburg.
Students expressed mixed feelings when they returned to class.
“Honestly, it’s been a great experience,” said Carter Powlen, a fourth-year systems engineering and economics student. “It’s nice to see friendly faces, but I think everyone’s trying to feel sane with all the problems.
Caden Kennedy, a sophomore, said many students are back in class, “but there are some people who are home and should be home.”
“I think the university itself knows that not everyone is ready to come back,” Kennedy said. “Teachers are definitely trying to work with everyone where everyone is.”
The University does not require undergraduate students to complete any graduate work or take any exams before Thanksgiving break. University President Jim Ryan opened the campus to students this afternoon and a memorial service is being held for the victims.
During a court hearing Wednesday, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingley gave a brief account of what happened after police responded to a report of shots fired near a parking garage Sunday night.
A witness told police the suspect pointed the gun at Chandler, shot him as he lay, and Chandler slid to the floor, Hingele said.
The witness said that Jones “aimed at certain people” and did not shoot randomly, according to Hingele.
Ryan said Monday that authorities do not have a “full understanding” of the cause of the shooting. Court documents did not provide any further insight, and Hingley did not say a possible motive Wednesday.
The public attorney appointed to represent Jones did not comment on the substance of the charges Wednesday. She also declined to comment outside of court.
Jones, who has been in custody since his arrest in suburban Richmond on Monday morning, has appeared sober. He did not speak during the hearing except to respond to questions from the judge, including about his job and ability to pay a lawyer.
Jones, who was a member of the football team during the 2018 season, has worked part-time for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia since September, team CEO Kate Lambert confirmed in an emailed statement.
Hingley also reviewed Jones’ past criminal record in court Wednesday. In February 2021, Jones was charged in Chesterfield County with carrying a concealed handgun without a license and was later given a 12-month suspended sentence, Hingele said.
While incarcerated, Jones had two outstanding warrants out of Petersburg for reckless damage to property and hit-and-run. He was convicted on both counts and given a 12-month suspended sentence on both, Hingele said.
The university said the failure to report Jones’ misdemeanor concealed weapons conviction against Jones is under ongoing review by the threat assessment team. The university’s Office of Student Affairs escalated Jones’ case to the university’s Judiciary Committee in late October, prompting a student-led disciplinary action. But on Tuesday night, spokesman Brian Coy confirmed the university had redacted the report. He finally did it Tuesday night, Coy said.
The university’s governing board — the board of visitors — held an emergency meeting Wednesday to receive briefings from law enforcement, emergency management officials, staff and legal counsel about the shooting and the investigation. The board held its executive session. The public is prohibited from attending and a spokesperson for the university said board members would have no comment.
One of the two hospitalized students was released from UVA Medical Center on Tuesday, health system spokesman Eric Swenson said.
A family spokesman, Mike Hollins, said the running back on the team, who was shot in the back, was showing signs of improvement Tuesday after a second surgery. Hollins’ mother, Brenda Hollins, said Joe Gipson, chief operating officer of a law firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he works, was taken off the ventilator and able to visit with family and friends in a hospital room. Gipson later released a statement saying that Hollins would head into a long recovery with the same intensity he used on the field and in the classroom.
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report.