Two football players who had dreamed of being part of Auburn University’s winning tradition were slain Saturday night along with an Auburn resident in a shooting that has stunned a college town usually sleepy in the summer.
Police and U.S. Marshals continue to search for the 22-year-old Desmonte Leonard suspected of killing three people and wounding three others after a party turned chaotic at the University Heights apartments.
The dead are : Ed Christian, a 20-year-old journalism major from Valdosta, Ga., who was last listed as a redshirt freshman offensive lineman, weighing in at 321 pounds; Ladarious Phillips, a 20-year-old sophomore fullback out of Roanoke, Alabama, who played multiple positions in high school, finishing with 2,982 yards rushing. He was majoring in exercise science.; Auburn/Opelika resident DeMario Pitts, who is not believed to have had ties to Auburn University.
Eric Mack, a promising Auburn offensive lineman at the college located about an hour from Montgomery, Alabama, was wounded in the shooting and is expected to recover. Another man, John Robertson, was shot in the head and taken to UAB Hospital in Birmingham for surgery. A third wounded man was treated and released at a local hospital, authorities said.
Police have released few details regarding the motive for the shooting. But Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said football had nothing to do with the incident. .
“Them being football players has nothing to do with this,” Dawson said in a Sunday press conference. “They were at a party and they were shot.”
A fight began during a party in the clubhouse of the apartment complex, after Leonard saw another guy dancing with a woman he had been spending time with.
“They started fussing over a girl, and the fussing escalated to a fight, and the fight escalated to a shooting,” said 21-year-old Richard Trammell, told The New York Times.
News of the shooting has sparked response on social media from friends, students and state leaders.
Oliver Robinson, an Alabama legislator who is a former college and NBA player, said incidents such as the Auburn shooting can happen anywhere to anyone.
“We are creating a culture of hatred and not caring for life,” Robinson wrote on Facebook. “ We have a segment of our population who doesn't mind life in prison or the death penalty! We in the black community must change our culture or these situations are going to multiply.”
Auburn University won the football collegiate National Championship two years ago. Many of the players this year summer are on campus to work on conditioning prior to the start of regular practice for the upcoming season.
The players were called together for a meeting Sunday afternoon.
"This is a sad, sad day for everyone associated with the entire Auburn family," Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik said in a prepared statement. "I am devastated by the passing of three young men, including two that I personally knew in Ed Christian and LaDarious Phillips and my heart goes out to their families. 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, and we will love and support the victims' families during this terribly difficult time. We have a lot of people on our football team that are hurting right now and we're going to do everything we can to help them get through this.”
A $15,000 reward is being offered in the case and authorities are encouraging Leonard to turn himself in.