Prosecutor: Witness told police UVA suspiciously targeted victims

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A witness who saw a University of Virginia student open fire aboard a bus returning from a field trip told police the gunman targeted specific victims — many of them football players — as he shot one. shot while he slept, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.

The details emerged during the defendant’s first trial, the same day the students returned to classes and the university announced it it canceled its Saturday football match in the wake of the deadly shooting.

A witness who was shown a photo of the shooting suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., identified him as the shooter, the prosecution said. Three football players were killed in the violence on Sunday evening and a player and another student were injured.

Jones, a former football player, appeared in court via video link from a local jail on Wednesday. He did not plead the many charges he faces and said he plans to hire a lawyer. A judge ordered him held without bail and appointed a public defender to represent him until he finds a private lawyer.

University officials and police said Jones, who turns 23 on Thursday, joined a group of about two dozen others on a Sunday field trip from the Charlottesville campus to see a play in the nation’s capital, about 120 miles away. beyond. When their bus arrived back on campus, authorities said Jones opened fire, killing Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry, and Devin Chandler..

Police have said Jones was able to flee the shooting scene, sparking a manhunt and a 12-hour campus lockdown that left many students petrified. He faces three counts of manslaughter, two counts of willful wounding and additional weapons-related charges.

The violence at the state’s premier public university has sparked days of mourning among students and faculty, the wider Charlottesville community and other supporters. Classes resumed on Wednesday, as the school announced it was canceling its final home game of the season, scheduled for the weekend against Coastal Carolina. A decision has not yet been made on the final game of the season on November 26 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Students described a range of emotions when they returned to class.

“It’s a pretty surreal experience, to be honest,” says Carter Paulen, a fourth-year college student majoring in systems engineering and economics. “It’s good to see friendly faces, but I think everyone is trying to feel normal again despite all the setbacks.”

Caden Kennedy, a sophomore, said many students went back to classes, “but there are people who are home and need to be home.”

“I think the university itself is well aware that not everyone is ready to return,” says Kennedy. “Teachers are absolutely trying to work with everyone where everyone else is.”

The university will not require undergraduate students to complete graded assignments or take exams before the Thanksgiving holiday. University president Jim Ryan opened his home on campus to students this week and a memorial service for the victims is underway.

At Wednesday’s court hearing, Albemarle County Commonwealth attorney James Hingeley gave a brief account of what police said happened Sunday night after officers responded to a report of gunfire near a parking garage.

A witness told police the suspect pointed the gun at Chandler, shot him as he slept, and Chandler slid to the floor, Hingeley said.

The witness said Jones was “aiming at certain people” and not firing at random, according to Hingeley.

Ryan said Monday authorities did not have a “full understanding” of the motive behind the shooting. Court documents have offered no additional insight, and Hingeley did not elaborate on a possible motive on Wednesday.

The public defender appointed to represent Jones did not comment on the substance of the allegations on Wednesday. She also declined to comment outside of court.

Jones, who has been in custody since he was arrested late Monday morning in suburban Richmond, looked glum. He did not speak at the hearing except to answer questions from the judge, including about his job and ability to afford a lawyer.

Jones, a walk-on member of the football team during the 2018 season, had been working part-time for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia since September, Kate Lambert, the group’s CEO, confirmed in an emailed statement.

Hingeley also reviewed Jones’ criminal record in court on Wednesday. In February 2021, Jones was charged in Chesterfield County with possession of a concealed handgun without a license and later received a 12-month suspended sentence, Hingeley said.

At the time of that arrest, Jones had two outstanding warrants related to a property damage accident and reckless driving from Petersburg. He was convicted on both charges and also received 12 months of suspended sentences on both, Hingeley said.

The university has said Jones’ failure to report the concealed weapon conviction was a consideration in an ongoing review of Jones by the threat assessment team. The university initially said its student affairs office escalated Jones’s case in late October to the University Judiciary Committee, a student-led body that could have taken disciplinary action. But late Tuesday night, spokesperson Brian Coy confirmed that the university had not actually escalated the report. That finally happened Tuesday night, Coy said.

The university’s board of directors — the Board of Visitors — held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to receive briefings from law enforcement, emergency officials, staff members and legal advisers about the shooting and the investigation, according to a public agenda. The board held its meeting in board meeting. The public was not allowed to attend and a spokesperson for the university said board members declined to comment.

Of the two students hospitalized, one was discharged from UVA Medical Center on Tuesday, according to Eric Swensen, a spokesman for the health system.

A family spokesperson for Mike Hollins, a team running back who was shot in the back, said he showed signs of improvement on Tuesday after undergoing a second surgery. He was removed from a ventilator and was able to visit family and friends in his hospital room, said Joe Gipson, the chief operating officer of a law firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Hollins’ mother, Brenda Hollins, works. Gipson later issued a statement reiterating that Hollins would approach his long recovery with the same tenacity he used on the field and in class.

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Sarah Rankin, Associated Press writer in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.

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