CRIME

Suspects in UVA football players deaths denied bond

Nov 17, 2022, 7:30 AM | Updated: 11:09 am
Christopher Jones, the man charged with the shooting spree that left three University of Virginia f...
Christopher Jones, the man charged with the shooting spree that left three University of Virginia football players dead, appeared in court in Charlottesville, Virginia Wednesday. (Bill Hennessy)
(Bill Hennessy)

(CNN) — The student accused of killing three University of Virginia football players after a school field trip was denied bail Wednesday during a court hearing in Charlottesville.

According to a witness, suspect Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. shot one of the players, Devin Chandler, while he was sleeping, the Albemarle County prosecutor said. Fellow UVA Cavaliers Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry were also killed.

Wednesday’s hearing also revealed that Jones was charged and convicted of a reckless driving and hit and run in 2021 and had a concealed weapons charge the same year. He received suspended sentences for all of the offenses.

Jones remains in custody in Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, according to online records. He was assigned a public defender until his next hearing in December — a status hearing that will discuss whether Jones has retained private counsel, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley said.

Jones was on a field trip Sunday with fellow UVA students to see a play in Washington, DC, a university spokesperson said.

When the bus returned to the Charlottesville campus, authorities said, the 22-year-old opened fire on the bus, killing Chandler, Davis and Perry.

Jones faces three charges of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, UVA Police Chief Timothy Longo Sr. said.

He also faces two counts of malicious wounding, each accompanied by a firearm charge. Two others were injured in the shooting, Hingeley said.

The prosecutor identified the injured as Marlee Morgan and Michael Hollins.

In an emailed statement, UVA Health spokesperson Eric Swensen indicated, without naming anyone, that one of the injured remains in the hospital in fair condition.

Hollins, a junior running back on the university’s football team, was intubated but stable Tuesday morning, his family said. On Wednesday, the family said in a statement he underwent two successful surgeries in the last 48 hours.

“As Mike starts down the path toward healing– physically, emotionally and spiritually– the process will take time,” a statement from the family read. “We ask that you respect his privacy and continue giving him space to mend.”

CNN reached out to the family of Marlee Morgan.

‘We thought he was going to shoot everyone on the bus’

UVA student Ryan Lynch told CNN affiliate KYW-TV she was on the bus where the shooting took place and saw Jones push one of the victims.

“Chris got up and pushed Lavel,” Lynch said. “After he pushed him, he was like ‘You guys are always messing with me.’ Said something weird like that, but it was very bizarre because they didn’t talk to him the whole trip.”

Then gunfire erupted.

“They just kept coming, more and more gunshots,” Lynch told KYW. “We thought he was going to shoot everyone on the bus.”

But “the shooter just kind of walked or, like, skipped off the bus,” Lynch said.

Suspect bought 2 guns this year, shop owner says

Jones bought two guns, a semiautomatic rifle and a pistol, in separate purchases this year, according to the owner of Dance’s Sporting Goods in Colonial Heights.

But Jones also had twice unsuccessfully to buy a firearm there, Marlon Dance told CNN in an email. In 2018 he was younger than the legal age (21) to buy a handgun and was denied a purchase. Three years later he tried to buy a rifle, but failed a background check, according to Dance.

In an email to CNN, Virginia State Police Spokesperson Corinne Geller said an investigation into the attempted purchase on July 8, 2021 revealed that the state police firearms transaction center denied Jones’ request based on an ongoing legal matter.

“The pending charge was reduced to a misdemeanor by the court in October 2021, thereby removing the prohibition against future purchases,” Geller said.

CNN has reached out to University of Virginia Police for comment on the shooting investigation and the gun used but has not heard back.

The rest of the football season is in limbo

UVA’s scheduled game against Coastal Carolina on Saturday has been canceled, the university’s athletics department announced Wednesday.

“The game would have been Virginia’s final home game of the 2022 season,” a statement from the athletics department said.

“A decision if Virginia will participate in its final game of the season, a Nov. 26 (Saturday) date against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, has not been made at this time.”

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Coast Conference released guidance Wednesday describing how the rest of the conference will support UVA going forward.

“The ACC is a family and when one member of our family hurts, we all hurt,” said Jim Phillips, ACC commissioner, in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those impacted and we will continue to support UVA in any way possible during this difficult time.”

The ACC produced UVA helmet decals that will be worn by every conference school, and a moment of silence will be observed at all ACC home football games this upcoming weekend, according to a statement from the conference.

The ACC has also produced UVA strong graphics for conference schools to use on social and digital media.

Jones was subject of a gun-related probe

Prior to Sunday’s shooting, Jones was the subject of a pending case with the university’s judicial council as Sunday’s shooting unfolded, officials said.

“On September 15, in the context of reviewing a potential hazing issue, UVA Student Affairs heard from a student that Mr. Jones made a comment to him about possessing a gun,” said Brian Coy, the university spokesperson.

That person “did not see Mr. Jones in possession of a gun,” and the “comment about owning a gun was not made in conjunction with a threat,” Coy said.

“In the course of their investigation, University officials spoke with Mr. Jones’ roommate, who gave no indication of the presence of any weapons. In the course of their investigation, University officials discovered that Mr. Jones previously had been tried and convicted of a misdemeanor concealed weapons violation in 2021, for which he received a 12-month suspended sentence and a small fine.”

Coy said throughout the investigation “Mr. Jones repeatedly refused to cooperate with University officials who were seeking additional information about the claims that he had a firearm and about his failure to disclose the previous misdemeanor conviction.”

“The Threat Assessment Team escalated his case for disciplinary action” on October 27, Coy said.

The school’s judicial council took over the case, and the results are pending, Longo, the school’s police chief, said.

Jones was also involved in a hazing investigation on campus that was closed because witnesses would not cooperate, Longo said.

Jones is listed on UVA’s athletics website as a football player in 2018 who, as a freshman, did not participate in any games. A UVA spokesperson told CNN Jones had a pre-existing injury that prevented him from playing on the football team in 2018.

Jones went through medical treatment and rehabilitation during his time with the team and was only a member of the team for one season, the spokesperson says.

“What I do know is the young man was a student beginning in 2018 and was a walk-on for one semester with our football program,” Williams said Tuesday.

‘We’re going to celebrate their lives’

On Tuesday, UVA football head coach Tony Elliott spoke publicly for the first time since the shooting. He described the days following the attack as a nightmare.

“I’m ready for somebody to pinch me and wake me up and say this didn’t happen,” Elliott said, adding that Tuesday “was much better, we were able to transition from the pain to finding a little bit of joy in celebrating the lives of Lavel, D’Sean and Devin.”

The deaths of players Chandler, Davis Jr. and Perry left three enormous holes on a team that felt more like family than anything, the coach said. He went on to describe them, calling Chandler “the life of the party,” Davis “the big man on campus” and Perry “the quiet guy everyone wanted to know about.”

Elliott commended the strength of his team and staff for coming together and being able to process the shooting. Elliott said the team has inspired him to keep pushing forward. At the same time, he said staff has made it their mission to ensure the team had all the resources they need and that no one went into isolation.

“The message to the team is we’re going to celebrate their lives going forward and the impact that they’ve made thus far and the legacy that they’re going to be a part of helping us establish going forward,” Elliott said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of UVA Health spokesperson Eric Swensen.

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Suspects in UVA football players deaths denied bond