Authorities were searching Monday for Desmonte Leonard, 22, of Montgomery, who is accused of opening fire Saturday night at an apartment complex near Auburn University after getting into a fight with some of the victims over a woman. He faces three counts of capital murder.
Two of those slain were former players for the school’s powerhouse football program.
Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said Leonard fled the scene in a white Chevrolet that he abandoned on the way back to Montgomery, about 55 miles away. They believed he was in the Montgomery area.
Court records show Montgomery police arrested Leonard in 2008 on a charge of carrying a pistol without a license, after stopping a suspected stolen vehicle and finding him inside. Documents available online didn’t show whether the case was ever resolved, but Leonard was freed on bond within days.
Leonard was charged in 2009 with assault after allegedly shooting a man in the groin, but prosecutors dropped the case after the victim told authorities Leonard wasn’t the shooter.
A Montgomery woman filed a paternity suit against Leonard on Friday that identified him as the father of a girl who turned 1 last month.
Another woman sued him in 2009 seeking unpaid child support for a girl who is now 4. A court ordered monthly payments of $305 by Leonard, who records show was working at a Walmart store at the time.
Auburn police said the weekend shootings didn’t appear to have anything to do with some of the victims being former or current players on the football team, which won the national championship in 2010.
“The only connection that the Auburn football team has to this is they are victims of a brutal shooting. Sometimes the young men get a bad rap, I feel like, but they are the victims today,” Dawson said.
Of the three wounded victims, John Robertson remained in critical condition after being shot in the head. Xavier Moss was released from the hospital. The third wounded victim was Eric Mack, a current football player who is expected to recover.
Slain were Edward Christian, who had to quit the team because of a lingering back injury, and Ladarious Phillips, who had previously quit playing football. The other person killed was 20-year-old Demario Pitts.
Dawson said he did not know why the party was being held or what started the fight.
Turquorius Vines, 23, said he was at the party Saturday evening at the University Heights apartments with one of his friend, Pitts. He said he and his friend were approached by two other men who started arguing with them over a woman.
Vines said he punched one of the men, while Pitts hit both of the men over the head with a bottle. Either one or both of the two men then started shooting, he said. He said Pitts was shot and killed, while two others also were hit by gunfire. Vines said he had never met the men he was arguing with.
“It’s like I lost a lung,” Vines said of losing his friend. “I don’t know how I’m going to survive this.”
Several emergency vehicles converged overnight around the University Heights apartment complex where many students live. The building was swathed in yellow police tape.
The apartment complex was the scene of another shooting in April.
In that shooting, a man armed with an assault rifle allegedly opened fire on a police tactical team as officers carried out a search warrant. No one was hurt, but officer seized weapons, cash and a pound of marijuana.
Police identified the alleged shooter in the April gunfire as a 21-year-old man, who was charged with four counts of attempted murder and drug possession. Three other men were arrested on drug charges.
Mack, the player wounded in Saturday’s shooting, is a junior offensive lineman from St. Matthews, S.C. He played in five games last season. Coach Gene Chizik said Mack was expected to recover.
Associated Press writer Jay Reeves contributed to this report.