June 11, 2012 10:05:40 AM
AUBURN - Authorities searched Monday for a gunman suspected of killing three people and wounding three others in a weekend shooting at a pool party near Auburn University that a witness said began with a fight over a woman.
Two of the slain victims were former players for the school's powerhouse football program.
Authorities were searching for Desmonte Leonard, 22, of Montgomery, who is accused of opening fire Saturday night at an apartment complex after getting into a fight with some of the victims over a woman. He faces three counts of capital murder.
Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said Leonard fled the scene in a white Chevrolet that he abandoned on the way back to Montgomery, about 55 miles away. They believed he was in the Montgomery area.
Of the three wounded victims, John Robertson remained in critical condition after being shot in the head. Xavier Moss was released from the hospital. The third wounded victim was Eric Mack, a current football player who is expected to recover.
Slain were Edward Christian, who had to quit the team because of a lingering back injury, and Ladarious Phillips, who had previously quit playing football. The other person killed was 20-year-old Demario Pitts.
Police emphasized that the shootings didn't appear to have anything to do with some of the victims being former or current players on the football team, which won the national championship in 2010.
"The only connection that the Auburn football team has to this is they are victims of a brutal shooting. Sometimes the young men get a bad rap, I feel like, but they are the victims today," Dawson said.
Dawson said he did not know why the party was being held or what started the fight.
Turquorius Vines, 23, said he was at the party Saturday evening at the University Heights apartments with one of his friend, Pitts. He said he and his friend were approached by two other men who started arguing with them over a woman.
Vines said he punched one of the men, while Pitts hit both of the men over the head with a bottle. Either one or both of the two men then started shooting, he said. He said Pitts was shot and killed, while two others also were hit by gunfire. Vines said he had never met the men he was arguing with.
"It's like I lost a lung," Vines said of losing his friend. "I don't know how I'm going to survive this."
Several emergency vehicles converged overnight around the University Heights apartment complex where many students live. The building was swathed in yellow police tape.
It appeared that the shooting happened in an archway near the apartment complex information center, near the edge of the parking lot.
The apartment complex was the scene of another shooting in April.
In that shooting, a man armed with an assault rifle allegedly opened fire on a police tactical team as officers carried out a search warrant. No one was hurt, but officer seized weapons, cash and a pound of marijuana.
Police identified the alleged shooter in the April gunfire as a 21-year-old man, who was charged with four counts of attempted murder and drug possession. Three other men were arrested on drug charges.
Mack, the player wounded in Saturday's shooting, is a junior offensive lineman from St. Matthews, S.C. He played in five games last season. Coach Gene Chizik said Mack was expected to recover.
Christian was an offensive lineman who left last season while dealing with a back injury. Phillips was a backup fullback. Chizik said in April that Phillips had decided to give up football.
A person who answered the phone at the home of Phillips' mother declined comment and said his family was too distraught to comment.
"Nobody should ever have to endure such unimaginable grief, and we will love and support the victims' families during this terribly difficult time," Chizik said. "We have a lot of people on our football team that are hurting right now and we're going to do everything we can to help them get through this."
Associated Press writer John Zenor contributed to this report.
1. Photo of responding MSU officer goes viral STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
2. City to limit hours for some stores COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Former MSU student's attorney speaks out STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
5. Wynn calls for school board head to resign STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY