CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A University of Virginia student who went on a field trip to see a play with classmates is the one suspected of opening fire inside the bus they were riding in when the group returned to campus, a university spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.
Spokesperson Brian Coy said the suspect in the shooting, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, joined what was previously described as a group of about two dozen others who traveled about 120 miles (193 kilometers) from the campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Washington for the field trip Sunday. Police said Jones, a former member of the school's football team, shot and killed three current team members and wounded two other students, one of them also a football player.
The shooting set off panic and a 12-hour lockdown of the campus until the suspect was captured Monday just outside Richmond.
University President Jim Ryan said at a news conference Monday that authorities did not have a “full understanding” of the motive or circumstances of the shooting. Authorities said it was unclear how Jones was able to flee the shooting scene.
An initial court appearance for Jones was set for Wednesday morning. The prosecutor handling the case, Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney James Hingeley, said in an email that in addition to previously announced second-degree murder and firearms charges, Jones also faces two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges.
Online records did not list a defense attorney who could speak on behalf of Jones, who remained in custody Tuesday. If Jones is financially eligible for court-appointed counsel, an attorney will be appointed Wednesday, Hingeley wrote. The hearing may also involve a preliminary bail review, he said.
The university canceled classes and other academic activities Tuesday and made counselors and therapy dogs available to the university community.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin ordered flags around the state lowered to half-staff and he also made an unannounced visit to the campus. Speaking to reporters near a memorial at the football stadium after he left flowers, he said he came to pay "deep respects and hopefully take a moment to support these families.”
“It’s beyond anything any parent can possibly imagine. And the first lady and I, our hearts are just broken for these families," said Youngkin, who also thanked the first responders and said he was praying for the wounded students.
The university has identified the three slain students as Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry. Head football coach Tony Elliott said they were all “incredible young men with huge aspirations and extremely bright futures.”
Hingeley also identified the fourth and fifth surviving victims, one of whom is a football team member. Jones faces the malicious wounding and related gun charges in connection with the attack on those survivors.
Jones was a member of the school's football team during the 2018 season. His father, Chris Jones Sr., told Richmond TV station WTVR he was in disbelief after getting a call from police Monday.
“My heart goes out to their families. I don’t know what to say, except I’m sorry, on his behalf, and I apologize,” he said.
Jones’ mother, Margo Ellis, declined to be interviewed when reached by The Associated Press on Tuesday. “There’s so much going on,” she said.
Jones came to the attention of the university’s threat-assessment team this fall in the context of a review of a “potential hazing issue,” the university said in a statement provided to the AP on Tuesday.
During that review, university officials heard from a student that Jones made a comment about having a gun. That student did not report Jones making any threat, according to the statement. University officials investigated and subsequently discovered Jones had previously been tried and convicted of a misdemeanor concealed weapons violation in 2021.
“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. Accordingly, on October 27, the Threat Assessment Team escalated his case for disciplinary action,” the statement said.
The killings happened as the nation is on edge from a string of mass shootings during the last six months. Among them were an attack that killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb that killed seven people and wounded more than 30; and a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people and wounded three.
University of Virginia, the state’s flagship public university, has endured numerous high-profile tragedies over the past decade, including the 2014 disappearance and murder of a student. It was also the site of some of the violence inflicted by white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville for the “Unite the Right” events in 2017.
“I think UVA has weathered a lot in the past. And I think we are an incredibly resilient community,” said Ellie Wilkie, a 21-year-old student who sheltered in her room on the historic Lawn at the center of campus during the lockdown.
But she added that she hoped students would have time to grieve the lives lost and that the university would consider whether systemic changes could be made to prevent something similar from happening again.
Classes were to resume at the university Wednesday, though UVA announced it would not require undergraduate students to complete any graded assignments or take exams before the Thanksgiving break.
Associated Press journalists Nathan Ellgren in Charlottesville; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Michael Kunzelman and Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; and Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia, contributed to this report.