CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A witness who saw a University of Virginia student open fire onboard a bus returning from a field trip told police the gunman targeted specific victims — many of them football players — shooting one as he slept, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
The details emerged during the suspect’s first court appearance, the same day students returned to classes and the university announced it was canceling its Saturday football game in the wake of the deadly shooting.
A witness who was shown a photo of the shooting suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., identified him as the gunman, the prosecutor said. The violence Sunday night left three football players dead and one player and another student wounded.
Jones, a former football player, appeared by video link from a local jail for the court hearing Wednesday. 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 Jones, who turns 23 today, 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 Jones opened fire, killing Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.
Police have said Jones was able to flee the shooting scene, setting off a manhunt and 12-hour campus lockdown that left many students petrified. He 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.
During Wednesday’s court hearing, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley gave a brief accounting of what police say happened Sunday night after officers responded to a report of shots fired near a parking garage.
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 Jones was “aiming at certain people” and not shooting randomly, according to Hingeley.
University President Jim Ryan said Monday that authorities did not have a “full understanding” of the motive behind the shooting. Court documents have offered no additional insight.
Jones, a walk-on member of the football team during the 2018 season, had worked part time for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia since September, Kate Lambert, the group’s CEO, confirmed in an emailed statement.
Hingeley also reviewed Jones’ past criminal record in court Wednesday. In February 2021, Jones 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, Jones 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.