Auburn, Ala.--A pair of 20-year-old former Auburn football players, Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips, were shot and killed late Saturday night at an off-campus swimming pool party and a current Auburn player, Eric Mack, was wounded in the same incident.
Christian, an offensive lineman who was from Valdosta, Ga., had to give up football due to injuries. He was enrolled at Auburn as a student. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident shortly after police arrived after getting a call at 10:03 p.m. about gunshots at University Heights apartment complex on West Longleaf Drive off of South College Street.
Phillips quit the team earlier this year and planned to transfer to Jacksonville State University in search of more playing time.
The fullback played at Handley High in Roanoke. He was pronounced dead at East Alabama Medical Center.
Mack, a 20-year-old backup offensive guard, is from Calhoun County High School in St. Stephens, S.C., where he was an Under Armour All-American lineman.
Auburn police chief Tommy Dawson confirmed the death of the two players on Sunday afternoon and said that Mack is still at East Alabama Medical Center with non life-threatening injuries.
The chief said that Desmonte Leonard, 22, has been charged with three counts of capital murder. An active manhunt is actively taking place for the Montgomery native, he pointed out. Dawson said he was confident an arrest will be made and it could come as early as Sunday.
The suspect's car was found abandoned off of Wire Road in Macon County. Dawson asked anyone who knows where Leonard is to immediately call 911 and report that information. The chief said there are three persons of interest who should contact police. He did not give their names, but said those people know who they are.
Dawson said the football players are "victims" of a tragedy, something that Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones noted, too. "This kind of thing just doesn't happen in our community," Jones said. "The players and their families are victims in this situation."
Dawson said, "The only connection the Auburn football team has to this is that they were victims of a brutal shooting."
Auburn University president, Dr. Jay Gogue, issued a statement on Sunday afternoon stating: "We're deeply saddened about last night's tragic events that impacted the Auburn community and the Auburn family. Our heart-felt condolences go out to the victims and their families. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
"We're in constant contact with area authorities and will continue to assist in any way possible. Our attention is now focused on providing care and support to those touched by this tragedy."
Auburn director of athletics, Jay Jacobs, also issued a statement on Sunday afternoon. "This is 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.
"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."
Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik said, "This is a sad, sad day for everyone associated with the entire Auburn family. 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. My thoughts and prayers are with their families and all of the victims involved in this tragic incident.
"Nobody should ever have to endure such unimaginable grief, and we will love and support the victims' families during this terribly difficult time. 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.
"We are relieved that Eric Mack, who was also a victim in this incident, is expected to make a full recovery," Chizik said. "This is a very trying time for everyone involved, and I would just ask that you lift up the victims and their families in your prayers."
A total of six people were hit by gunshots, Dawson said. Demario Pitts, 20, a non-student from Auburn, was also killed by a gunshot. Xavier Moss, 19, was treated and released at East Alabama Medical Center. John Robertson, 20, is listed in critical condition at UAB Hospital in Birmingham.
The Auburn police released mugshots of the suspect on Sunday afternoon.
Desmonte Leonard is the subject of a manhunt with the FBI and U.S. Marshal Service involved along with area police agencies.
"We have a motive, but I am not going to release the motive today," the police chief said. "That will be for the court later on." Dawson noted that he did not want to release any details that could jeopardize the prosecution of the case.
The chief did say that the shots occurred after a fight began at the party at the off-campus complex "that got out of hand...During the fight shots were fired."
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