Three football players were killed and two others were injured after a gunman opened fire late Sunday night at the University of Virginia, sending the main Charlottesville campus into lockdown for hours before the arrest of suspect Christopher Darnell Jones.
On Sunday evening at approximately 10.40pm, the shooter staged their attack near a parking garage on the university’s main campus before fleeing the scene and evading police detection well into Monday morning.
The manhunt for the suspect, who police identified as student and former football player 22-year-old Jones plunged the university’s residences into lockdown as students and staff were commanded by the University of Virginia Police and the school’s administration to shelter in place and seek safety if they weren’t inside already.
Police finally announced Jones’ arrest just after 11am Monday, marked the end of a nearly 12-hour episode that had left students and staff locked inside their rooms.
It has since emerged that Jones had been under investigation at the time of the shooting by a university threat assessment team for claiming he owned a gun. He was also convicted of a concealed firearm violation last year. Those relevations have raised questions over whether the university and local police could have done more to prevent the shooting.
Here, The Independent breaks down everything we know about the suspected gunman at the University of Virginia.
Late in the night on Sunday evening, students wrapping up an otherwise quiet weekend at the University of Virginia were disturbed by terror-inducing text messages and emails from the school’s dean and Office of Emergency Management, warning that an active shooter had touched the main campus and had evaded arrest by authorities.
“UVA Alert: ACTIVE ATTACKER firearm reported in area of Culbreth Road. RUN HIDE FIGHT,” tweeted the university’s police force in a late-night message that sent panic throughout the campus.
It was later confirmed UVA Police Chief Tim Longo during a press conference on Monday that the mass shooting had unfolded on and near a charter bus at the university’s main campus in Charlottesville. Students onboard the bus had been returning home from a field trip in Washington DC after driving into the nation’s capital to see a play.
Three UVA football players were later identified as the victims killed in the attack – Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. While the two victims wounded by the shooting were identified as fellow football player Michael Hollins and student Marlee Morgan.
“I am devastated that this violence has visited the University of Virginia. This is a traumatic incident for everyone in our community and we have cancelled classes for today,” the school’s president, Jim Ryan, wrote in a statement early in the morning on Monday.
On Monday morning, about 12 hours after the mass shooting had plunged an entire campus into lockdown, authorities confirmed that the suspect in the massacre had been taken into custody.
Who is suspect Christopher Darnell Jones?
Officers first identified the suspected shooter in the massacre just after midnight on Monday, while sharing a headshot of the 22-year-old that appeared to be lifted from UVA’s athletics’ website, as he was a former football player for the school.
“The UVA Police Department is looking for Christopher Darnell Jones regarding the shooting incident that occurred on the grounds of the University of Virginia. Call 911 if seen, do not approach,” the department tweeted, warning that he was believed to be “armed and dangerous” in several follow-up posts.
Officers added that the 22-year-old suspected gunman was last seen wearing a burgundy jacket, blue jeans with red shoes and was thought to possibly be driving a black SUV with the driver’s licence TWX3580.
Mr Jones, who has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and five firearm charges, reportedly grew up in Richmond and played football at two area high schools.
He was a former football player for the UVA and is included on the university’s athletics website on the 2018 roster, though he didn’t appear in any games.
The website lists Mr Jones’ hometown as Petersburg, Virginia, where he played line-backer and running back at Petersburg High School. He “earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a senior” and spent three years of his high school education at Varina High School where he earned honourable mention all-conference as a freshman and second-team accolades as a sophomore and junior.
The website lists a number of Mr Jones’ accomplishments at high school, which include being a member of the National Honor Society and the National Technical Honor Society, serving as president of Key Club and Jobs for Virginia Grads Program and being named the Student of the Year as a freshman and sophomore at Varina.
In a 2018 profile from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginia newspaper described how Mr Jones grew up in Essex Village and Mosby Court housing complexes in Richmond, the latter being one of seven public housing communities located in east Richmond where more than 93 per cent of households are headed by a female and the average annual household income is $10,609.
In that same article, Mr Jones was described as being a smart and quiet child by his grandmother, known to him and his siblings as “Grannie”.
“I lift him up more in prayer because I can see the hand of God on him,” said his “Grannie,” Mary Jones in the news article. “He was quiet. Even in school, quiet. His sisters and his brothers would tease. But he was smart. He’s destined for more.”
For Mr Jones, he characterised his parents’ divorce as being “traumatic” as his father left when he was five years old and didn’t return until he was a teen.
“My dad and me were really close. It just hurt me when he had to leave,” he said. “That was one of the most traumatic things that happened to me in my life. I didn’t understand why he left. When I went to school, people didn’t understand me.”
But when he was in the classroom, where he would easily be getting As in the courses he excelled in, that’s where he felt at home.
“When I come into the classrooms, everything flowed,” Mr Jones said at the time.
The then-18-year-old described brushes of fights he’d get into with his peers that would sometimes lead to suspensions but admitted that most of those altercations stemmed from kids seeming surprised that a “kid from the projects” was constantly raising his hand to answer questions.
“I would get upset because my intelligence was being insulted. Kids would pick on me — ‘Why did you do that? Why did you answer that question?’” Mr Jones told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “And in that world, disrespect means you should fight.”
Mr Jones’ relationship with mother reportedly deteriorated when he was a teen, which later prompted him to move in with his grandmother in the summer of 2016, relocating him to Petersburg, while his siblings continued to live with his mom.
Mentors throughout Mr Jones’ high school years provided guidance, with some confiding to the news outlet that they would take him out to restaurants for meals or buy him new clothes when they noticed him wearing the same outfit days in a row.
“I think he had more anger when I first met him,” said one mentor, Xavier Richardson, interviewed for the article. “He always had strong goals. He was ambitious, but his anger simply got in the way,” Mr Richardson said, who had met the teen in the 11th grade.
Mr Richardson confirmed during that 2018 interview that he had helped the young man navigate much of his financial aid package with the University of Virginia after taking him on multiple college tours.
“If it wasn’t for these people in my life, I would’ve been just another kid whose dad left him,” Mr Jones said of the mentors in his life at the time.
Were there any warning signs or known motive?
While it was not immediately clear if the 22-year-old suspect, who was taken into custody on Monday morning by authorities, had any known motive behind the alleged attack on students, witnesses who saw the assault unfold were left to believe it wasn’t random.
During Jones’ arraignment on Wednesday morning, Jim Hingeley, a prosecutor with Albemarle County, described how a witness had told police that they’d seen Jones shoot a Chandler, while he was asleep, in what appeared to be a targeted act before his limp body slumped to the floor.
Other witnesses onboard the charter bus that deadly night described how they’d heard Jones make “bizarre” remarks about certain students “messing” with him and pushed one of the victims, Davis Jr, when the group arrived at the Charlottesville campus from a school trip.
“After [Mr Jones] pushed him, he was like ‘You guys are always messing with me.’ He said something like that but it was really bizarre because they didn’t talk to him the whole trip,” Ryan Lynch, who was on the bus when Mr Jones allegedly opened fire, told local news station KYW.
A family friend of Mike Hollins, one of the two victims who survived the attack, also said that Mr Jones made comments about a video game before the violence unfolded.
“He was asking one of the football players about a video game,” Gordon McKernan told Sports Illustrated. “The guy answered, and at that moment, he pulled a gun and started shooting. The belief from those on board was that he was targeting football players.”
UVA Police Chief Longo had earlier revealed on Monday that a UVA multidisciplinary threat assessment team launched an investigation after receiving reports that Mr Jones made comments about owning a gun to an individual unaffiliated with the university.
Mr Longo said that Mr Jones had not made threats at the time, but simply mentioned he had a firearm.
“Because I want to be transparent with you, I want you to know … Mr Jones came to the attention of the University of Virginia’s threat assessment team in the fall of 2022,” Mr Longo said. “They received information that Mr Jones had made a comment about possessing a gun to a person that was unaffiliated with the university.”
Mr Longo said that the individual in question and Mr Jones’ roommate, who did not see the gun, were questioned.
Mr Longo also mentioned that Mr Jones had been investigated in connection to an alleged hazing incident, but the inquiry fell apart after witnesses did not come forward with information.
The team learned that Mr Jones had violated protocol by not informing the university about a criminal incident in February 2021 in which he had been involved. The criminal investigation took place outside of Charlottesville and was in relation to a concealed weapon violation, NBC reported.
“He’s required as a student at the University of Virginia to report that and he never did, so the University has taken appropriate administrative charges through the University’s judiciary council and that matter is still pending adjudication,” Mr Longo said.
By Tuesday, however, UVA confirmed in a statement to Fox 5 DC that the recommendation to the university judiciary council for discipline had failed to materialise.
“On October 27, Student Affairs decided to escalate his case for disciplinary action,” UVA’s statement read. That escalation, the letter notes, arrived only after Jones had reportedly “repeatedly refused” to cooperate with officials in the probe.
“In the wake of the shooting yesterday, Student Affairs officials discovered that the report had not been transmitted to the University Judiciary Committee (UJC), and are working to correct that,” the statement said, before noting that the judiciary body’s proceedings “customarily take weeks or months”.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the prosecutor told Albemarle General District Court Judge Kenneth Andrew Sneathern about the 22-year-old’s previous misdemeanours, which included his conviction of having a concealed weapon on 10 June 2021 and a misdemeanour conviction for a hit-and-run property damage and reckless driving.
When Jones was arrested for the concealed weapon misdemeanour, he still had outstanding warrants for the hit-and-run, which had occurred earlier that year.
On 28 October 2021, Jones was convicted on the misdemeanour hit-and-run property damage and reckless driving charges, for which a judge issued a 12-month suspended sentence on each of those charges.