A witness who saw a University of Virginia studenton a bus returning from a field trip described to police how the gunman targeted specific victims — many of them — shooting one of them as he slept, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday. The details emerged during the suspect’s first court appearance.
Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley said a witness who was shown a photo of the shooting suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., identified him as the gunman. The violence Sunday night left three football players dead and one player and another student wounded.
The suspect, a former football player, appeared by video link from a local jail for Wednesday’s court hearing. He did not enter a plea to the numerous charges he faces and said he plans to hire an attorney. A judge ordered him held without bond and appointed a public defender to represent him until he secures private counsel.
University officials and police have said the 22-year-old suspect joined a group of about two dozen others on a field trip Sunday from the Charlottesville campus to see a play in the nation’s capital, about 120 miles away. When their bus arrived back on campus, authorities have said the suspect opened fire, killing Lavel Davis Jr.,and Devin Chandler.
One witness told police the suspect pointed the gun at Chandler, shot him as he was sleeping, and Chandler slid to the floor, Hingeley said.
The witness said the suspect was “aiming at certain people” and not shooting randomly, according to Hingeley.
Responding officers found Chandler and Perry dead on the bus, Hingeley said. Davis died from his wounds at a hospital, he said.
The public defender appointed to represent the suspect did not address the substance of the charges Wednesday. She also declined comment outside of court.
The judge set a December status hearing in the case.
Authorities said the suspect was able to flee the shooting scene, setting off a manhunt and 12-hour campus lockdown before he was taken into custody elsewhere in the state late Monday morning. The suspect faces three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges.
The violence at the state’s flagship public university has set off days of mourning among students and faculty, the broader Charlottesville community and other supporters. Classes resumed Wednesday.
University President Jim Ryan said Monday that authorities did not have a “full understanding” of the motive behind the shooting. Court documents filed so far in the matter have offered no additional insight, and Hingeley did not address a possible motive Wednesday.
In a video statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday night, Ryan said “it’s possible, and perhaps likely, that we will never find one single thing that will explain this. It may also be that we never truly understand why this happened.”
Ryan said that the school is “inviting an external review with respect to the university’s interactions with the suspect, and whether we did all we could to prevent or avoid this tragedy.”
Also Wednesday, the schoolthat it was canceling its final home game of the season scheduled for Saturday against Coastal Carolina. Ryan said Wednesday night that there would instead be a memorial service Saturday “to honor the lives” of the three slain football players, along with the two other students who were wounded.
In announcing the cancellation, the university said in a news release that no decision has been made yet about whether UVA will participate in its final game of the season Nov. 26 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
The suspect was a member of the football team during the 2018 season, a one-semester walk-on, according to athletics director Carla Williams.
In interviews, his father has expressed confusion and astonishment and apologized to the victims’ families.
Of the two students who were hospitalized, one was discharged from the medical center Tuesday, according to Eric Swensen, a health system spokesperson.
Family members of Mike Hollins, a running back on the team, have said he underwent a second surgery Tuesday.
In her first television interview since the shooting, Hollins’ mother Brenda Hollinsthat her son does not yet know three of his friends and teammates were killed.
In court Wednesday, Hingeley also reviewed the suspect’s past criminal record. In February 2021, he was charged in Chesterfield County with possession of a concealed handgun without a permit and later given a 12-month suspended sentence, Hingeley said.
At the time of that arrest, the suspect had two outstanding warrants in connection with a hit-and-run accident with property damage and reckless driving from Petersburg. He was convicted of both charges and also given 12-month suspended sentences on both, Hingeley said.
The university has said the suspect’s failure to report the misdemeanor concealed weapon conviction was a consideration in an ongoing review of him by its threat-assessment team. The university initially said its student affairs office had escalated the suspect’s case in late October to the University Judiciary Committee, a student-run body that could have enacted disciplinary action. But late Tuesday night, a spokesperson confirmed the university had not actually escalated the report and was working on doing so.