Auburn University shooting: Suspect Desmonte Leonard on the lam, facing 3 counts murder
An undated photo provided by the Auburn University Police shows Desmonte Leonard, who is wanted on three counts of capital murder after a shooting near the university on June 10, 2012. / Auburn University Police
Updated 5:17 PM ET
(CBS/AP) MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The search for a man charged with fatally shooting three people and wounding three more at a party near Auburn University focused on Alabama's capital Monday as police said they had arrested two men accused of hindering the search.
Desmonte Leonard's last address was at a residence in Montgomery, and authorities said they believe he returned to the city after gunfire erupted late Saturday in Auburn, about 50 miles away. Two former Auburn football players were among the dead and a third was injured.
More than three dozen local police, state agents and federal marshals were searching for Leonard, 22, who records show faced two previous charges involving guns.
"We don't have reason to believe he is outside the city," said Sgt. Regina Duckett, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Police Department.
Auburn police Jeremy S. Thomas, 18, of Montgomery was charged with hindering prosecution after allegedly fleeing the scene of the shooting with Leonard. Records show Thomas was free on bond at the time of the Auburn shootings while awaiting a murder trial set to begin June 18 in last year's shooting death of Takiara Sada Gaston, 14.
Montgomery police said Gabriel Thomas, 41, was also charged with hindering prosecution after allegedly having contact with Leonard after the shooting and providing false information to officers.
Police said it wasn't known whether Jeremy Thomas and Gabriel Thomas are related. Officers also were looking for a third man described as a person of interest in the case, but it wasn't clear why.
Authorities are offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to Leonard's capture.
Authorities said Leonard was charged with three counts of capital murder in the Saturday night shooting during a pool party at University Heights apartments in Auburn.
Slain were Edward Christian, who had not been playing because of a back injury, and Ladarious Phillips, who had previously quit playing football. The other person killed was 20-year-old Demario Pitts.
Officials also said Xavier Moss and John Robertson were wounded. Robertson had been shot in the head and was in critical condition; Moss was released from the hospital.
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 university's powerhouse 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.
Police urged the suspect to turn himself in. Authorities are also searching for two other persons of interest.
Court records show Montgomery police arrested Leonard in 2008 on a charge of carrying a pistol without a license, after stopping a suspected stolen vehicle and finding him inside. Documents available online didn't show whether the case was ever resolved, but Leonard was freed on bond within days.
Leonard was charged in 2009 with assault after allegedly shooting a man in the groin, but prosecutors dropped the case after the victim told authorities Leonard wasn't the shooter.
A Montgomery woman filed a paternity suit against Leonard on Friday that identified him as the father of a girl who turned 1 last month.
Another woman sued him in 2009 seeking unpaid child support for a girl who is now 4. A court ordered monthly payments of $305 by Leonard, who records show was working at a Walmart store at the time.
Dawson said he did not know why the party was being held or what sparked the fight.
"Them being football players really has nothing to do with this. They're victims of a shooting," Dawson said.
Turquorius Vines, 23, said he was at the pool party Saturday evening at the University Heights apartments with one of his friends, 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. Five uniformed officers guarded the area, which was sealed off with crime scene tape, and a handful of crime scene investigators were at work.
Mack, the wounded player, 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 make a full recovery.
Christian is an offensive lineman who was out 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."
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