Authorities in Alabama have cast a wide net in their search for a man accused of shooting six people, three fatally, at a party near Auburn University Saturday night.
Police have issued three capital murder charges for Desmonte Leonard, 22, of Montgomery, Ala., in the shooting deaths of Auburn football players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips, both 20 and Auburn, Ala., resident DeMario Pitts, also 20. Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said another victim John Robertson was at UAB Hospital “fighting for his life” and that two others, Xavier Moss and Auburn defensive lineman Eric Mack were both released after being treated. Two other “persons of interest” are also being sought in the case.
Leonard, who is believed to be armed and dangerous, has had several run ins with law enforcement in Montgomery. He was arrested and charged in 2008 for an auto theft and carrying an illegal firearm, but was not prosecuted for either. He was arrested later for shooting a 16-year-old, but prosecutors did not charge him because the teen said Leonard was not the right man. He was arrested again in 2011 for failure to make child support payments.
Witnesses say the shooting started at a party thrown at an apartment complex near Auburn’s campus. Leonard was with at least one other person who began arguing with two other men at the party over a woman. A fight ensued and gunfire erupted, killing Christian, Phillips and Pitts. Police do not believe the victims were the intended targets of the shooting. Leonard, was identified as the shooter, police said. He fled the scene in a vehicle with two other unknown men, then abandoned it in a Macon County, Ala., road.
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While the shooting involved Auburn football players, Dawson said that Auburn police did not consider that fact germane to the case. “Let me point that out, the only connection the Auburn football team has to this is they are victims of a brutal shooting.” Leonard, he said, has no connection to to the university. The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service are offering a total of $15,000 for information that leads to his apprehension.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik later addressed his players over the incident and offered counseling and other help, the Birmingham News reported. “This is a sad, sad day for everyone associated with the entire Auburn family,” Chizik said in a statement. “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.”