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U-Va. shooter fired at football player as he slept, prosecutor says

Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney says a witness claimed the gunman did not seem to fire at random

Students grieve after a shooting at the University of Virginia. (Justin Ide for The Washington Post)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — A witness told police that the University of Virginia student accused of fatally shooting three football players and wounding two other students on campus seemed to be aiming at particular people — rather than firing randomly — and shot one of the players as he slept, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.

Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley offered the new details of the shooting at a court appearance for Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., who is facing second-degree murder charges in the slayings of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry. Jones was ordered held without bond until his next hearing, which is scheduled for Dec. 8.

The hearing was the first time Jones, who turns 23 on Thursday, had been seen in public since authorities say he opened fire on his schoolmates Sunday evening, as they arrived on campus after returning from a trip to see a play about Emmett Till in D.C. Police arrested him the next morning about 80 miles away from campus, ending a 12-hour manhunt that shut down Charlottesville and had students barricading their doors with dorm furniture and making self-defense weapons out of Van Gogh prints.

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When is something a mass killing?
The Washington Post uses the term mass killing to describe any event in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, are killed by gunfire.
The Post generally only uses the term mass shooting when we’re citing an organization such as the Gun Violence Archive whose definition differs from ours. The GVA defines a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, are injured or killed by gunfire, including events with no fatalities.
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In 2022, there were 647 mass shootings (here are the events in 2023 so far.). In 2021, 2020 and 2019, there were 690, 610 and 417, respectively. Before that, the Gun Violence Archive tracked fewer than 400 a year since 2014. Most gun deaths continue to be from suicides and homicides, with men making up the majority of both perpetrators and victims.
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Jones — appearing via a video feed and wearing black-and-white jail garb — looked directly into the camera, occasionally scratching his beard and glancing down. He answered questions from the judge, mostly with “Yes, sir,” and at one point said that he recently worked at the Boys & Girls Club in Charlottesville, earning about $360 biweekly for eight hours of service. Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia CEO Kate Lambert said in a statement Wednesday that he was a “former part-time staff member” who had worked for the organization since September.

“The safety and protection of the young people we serve are always our absolute highest priority, and we take any situation that might impact their well-being very seriously,” Lambert said.

A judge appointed public defender Elizabeth P. Murtagh to represent Jones until he hires an attorney.

“We are all grieving and saddened and devastated by these events in our community,” Hingeley said at a news conference afterward, declining to reveal other details of the investigation. “All of us in this community care for the victims’ families and wish for the speedy recovery of those … who were wounded, and wish that there can be comfort for the family members of the victims who died in this terrible tragedy.”

Jones is also facing malicious-wounding charges in the shooting. The witness told police that Chandler “sunk to the floor” after Jones shot him while he slept, Hingeley said in court.

A witness who saw a University of Virginia student open fire told police that the gunman seemed to aim at certain people, a prosecutor said in court Nov. 16. (Video: Reuters)

How a U-Va. class trip ended in gunfire and death

On Wednesday evening, U-Va. President James E. Ryan announced that a memorial service honoring the slain and injured students will replace the football game scheduled for Saturday, which the team decided to cancel.

Ryan also said the school is “inviting an external review with respect to the university’s interaction with [the] suspect and whether we did all we could to prevent or avoid this tragedy.” He said he would share and “act upon” what is learned but cautioned that “it is possible and in fact likely that we will never find one single thing that will explain this.”

There was still little known about what motivated the shooting and whether there was any particular reason that most of the victims were on the football team, which Jones played for briefly his freshman year. U-Va. Athletic Director Carla Williams said at a news conference Tuesday that she was not aware of any interactions between Jones and players on the current roster.

Multiple students who knew Jones on campus — including one who went to his high school, and another enrolled in his Swahili class this semester — said they had never seen Jones interact with any of those he is accused of shooting. They said Jones seemed to often be alone on campus, but they never suspected he would be capable of such violence.

“Just as much of a shock it was that he was a shooter, it was a shock who the victims were, too,” said Kayla Hendrick, a 21-year-old fourth-year student at U-Va. who went to high school with Jones.

Michael Haggard, an attorney speaking for Perry’s family, said in a phone interview Wednesday he did not know of any connection between Perry and Jones.

Haggard described Perry as a young man with a winning personality and a determination to give back. He said many younger students looked to the linebacker as a role model.

“He had made it,” Haggard said of Perry at a news conference. “He was at one of the greatest schools in the country, going to class, a great student-athlete. And this is how the story ends.”

Ryan Lynch, a 19-year-old U-Va. neuroscience major who witnessed the shooting, said Jones did not know many students on the trip. They were mostly from a class focused on African American playwrights, and Jones had been invited along by their professor because he was taking a social justice class with her. Lynch said Jones sat in the back of the bus on the return trip to Charlottesville, before some of her classmates heard him say something to the effect of “You guys are always messing with me.” Then, she said, he started to fire. She remembered the bus smelling like smoke and seeing her friend Davis facedown in the middle of the bus.

A student had previously told university officials that Jones had claimed to possess a gun, U-Va. officials said, which caused an internal threat assessment team to launch an investigation. Investigators were unable to speak with Jones himself, according to U-Va. officials, despite making efforts to do so.

But officials learned that Jones had a concealed-weapon conviction in 2021 in Chesterfield County — a conviction they said he failed to disclose, which could subject him to discipline.

Brian Coy, a U-Va. spokesman, said the university had emailed Jones on Oct. 26 to warn him that he faced the imminent possibility of disciplinary action and to urge him to talk with U-Va. officials. But on Tuesday, Coy said the school had failed to report Jones to a student-run judiciary committee after learning he had not disclosed the conviction, revising the school’s earlier account that such a report had been made.

The owner of a Colonial Heights, Va., sporting goods store said in a statement Wednesday that Jones purchased a Glock 9mm pistol with an additional magazine in July and a Ruger rifle from the store in February. University officials did not immediately respond to requests about whether one or both of those weapons were used in the shooting on campus.

Marlon Dance, the owner of Dance Sporting Goods, said Jones attempted to purchase guns on two other occasions but was denied. In July 2021, he tried to buy a rifle but failed the background check, Dance said.

Virginia State Police, which handles background checks, said in a statement that Jones failed the background check because he had a pending felony at the time of the attempted purchase. People with felony charges and convictions are prohibited from buying guns in Virginia.

The pending charge, which was for fleeing the scene of an accident in Petersburg, Va., in 2020, was later reduced to a misdemeanor and Jones pleaded no contest to it in late 2021. State police said he was then cleared to purchase weapons again. Dance said Jones also tried to purchase a handgun from his store in 2018 but was turned away because he was not yet 21.

Dance declined to answer additional questions about Jones.

U-Va. says it failed to report suspected shooter for discipline

Jones’s court appearance coincided with the first day of classes since the shooting, and it seemed like every corner of campus had spent the past few days preparing to help students make a slow return to collegiate life.

President Ryan had opened up his family home to students “to hang out with each other and a dog or cat, or two,” he said in a campuswide email. A student group had put on a movie night with one room designated to watch “Cars,” and another room for people to grieve. A business fraternity had canceled its formal and replaced it with a low-key pizza night. And though classes resumed Wednesday, the university told undergraduates they did not have to complete any graded assignments or take exams before Thanksgiving break.

The mood on campus was subdued. Students in coffee shops took breaks from their economics homework to discuss whether they should reach out to friends who witnessed the attack. Others talked about the Monday night vigil, when thousands of students had converged on the South Lawn to silently honor their slain classmates.

That night, members of the football team appeared together at the front of the lawn, embracing and exchanging words of comfort that echoed across the throngs of students.

“Love you, man,” one player had said, gripping another’s back.

At one point, a player had started to cry uncontrollably. People who appeared to be football team staff members gathered around him, wrapping the young man in their arms. Only his feet were visible. Only wailing could be heard: “He’s gone.”

Jouvenal reported from Washington. Keith L. Alexander, Alice Crites and Susan Svrluga in Washington contributed to this report.

Mass shooting at the University of Virginia

The latest: A month after the U-VA. shooting, the parents of D’Sean Perry have questions about why the violence was not prevented.

What do we know about the shooting? A witness revealed new details about the U-Va. shooting, where a gunman opened fire on bus full of students, authorities confirmed. Additionally, the University of Virginia failed to report the suspected shooter to a student-run judiciary committee.

Who are the shooting victims? Officials identified the deceased victims as U-Va. football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis and D’Sean Perry.

Who is accused of the UVA shooting? 23-year-old student Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. is the accused gunman in the U-Va. mass shooting. What was U-Va. shooting suspect’s motive? In an initial court appearance, a prosecutor claims that suspect Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. fired at a sleeping football player.