Former Auburn players shot to death

Updated: June 11, 2012, 8:52 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Two players from last season's Auburn football team were shot to death late Saturday night at an apartment complex near the school's campus in Alabama while an offensive lineman who remains on the team was hospitalized with gunshot wounds.

They were among three people who were killed and another three who were injured in the shooting, police said Sunday.

Ladarious Phillips, 20, the Tigers' only true fullback last season as a sophomore, and ex-lineman Ed Christian, 20, who was a redshirt freshman, were killed when a gunman opened fire after a fight started at the University Heights apartments in Auburn between 10 and 11 p.m. local time, police and a witness said.

[+] Enlarge Desmonte Leonard suspect in Auburn shootings
AP Photo/David GoldmanAuburn police chief Tommy Dawson said federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were actively hunting for a suspect ID'ed as Desmonte Leonard, 22, of Montgomery, Ala.

Eric Mack, a sophomore lineman for the Tigers, was also shot but was released from East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala., on Sunday. Phillips died at the scene.

"This is a trying time, not only for university students and athletes, but its young people," Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said in a Sunday afternoon news conference. "It's six young people that have been shot. As you can tell, the community is shaken by this and grieving today."

Dawson said federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were actively hunting for a suspect identified as Desmonte Leonard, 22, of Montgomery, Ala. A warrant for three counts of capital murder had been signed and issued for Leonard, Dawson said.

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.

Dawson asked if anyone knew of Leonard's whereabouts to call 911 but that he was to be considered "armed and dangerous." Dawson urged Leonard to turn himself in and also said authorities were searching for two other persons of interest.

Leonard has a criminal history in Montgomery on theft, assault and weapons charges, the Birmingham News reported. Leonard was charged in 2008 with theft and carrying a weapon without a permit or license. In 2009, Leonard was charged with second-degree assault.

Christian
Christian
Phillips
Phillips

The Tigers had a team meeting Sunday night and grief counseling has been put in place. Coach Gene Chizik released a statement through the school shortly before Sunday's news conference.

"I am devastated by the passing of three young men, including two that I personally knew in Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips and my heart goes out to their families," Chizik said in a statement.

Demario Pitts, 20, a resident of Auburn, also was killed in the shooting.

Dawson identifed the other shooting victims as John Robinson and Xavier Moss. Robinson was still "fighting for his life" in the hospital after being shot in the head, while Moss had been treated and released.

Dawson sought to assure the media Leonard had no ties to Auburn athletics.

"The only connections Auburn football players have in this are they are the victims of a brutal shooting," he said.

The only connections Auburn football players have in this are they are the victims of a brutal shooting.

-- Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson

Mack, the wounded player, is a junior offensive lineman from St. Matthews, S.C. He played in five games last season. Chizik said Mack was expected to make a full recovery. Christian had left the team because of a back injury.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs called Sunday "a tragic day for the entire Auburn community."

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families who have been devastated by this senseless tragedy," Jacobs said in the Auburn statement. "We will support the families of the victims in the difficult days ahead in every way that we possibly can.

"Our student-athletes are obviously stunned and deeply saddened, and we are providing counseling and support for them as they grieve the loss of their teammates and friends."

A witness who spoke to reporters Sunday morning said he was at a pool party with one of his friends when they were approached by two other men who started arguing with them over a woman.

Turquorius Vines, 23, said he punched one of the men, while his friend hit both of the men over the head with a bottle. Either one or both of the two men then started shooting, he said.

Mack
Mack

He said his friend was shot and killed, while two others also were hit by gunfire. Vines said he had never before seen the men who he had been arguing with.

"It's like I lost a lung," Vines said of his friend. "I don't know how I'm going to survive this."

Several emergency vehicles had converged overnight around the University Heights apartment complex where reports indicated a number of students who attend Auburn University typically reside. The building was swathed in yellow police tape.

It appeared the shooting happened in an archway near the apartment complex information center, near the edge of the parking lot. Early Sunday, five uniformed officers guarded the area, which was sealed off with the crime-scene tape, and a handful of crime scene investigators were at work.

After daybreak, several uniformed officers stood near a disaster relief trailer parked at the building's entrance, which appeared to be a sort of command center. Some bystanders milled about, looking on at the scene.

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."

The University Heights 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.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.