The University of Virginia student alleged to have killed three college football players on Sunday night was ‘paranoid’ and said people had been ‘picking on him’ weeks before his campus gun rampage, his father has said.
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, a former member of the school’s football team, was arrested on Monday after a massive 13-hour manhunt in the wake of shootings on the school’s Charlottesville campus.
The violence erupted near a parking garage just after 10:15 p.m. Sunday as a charter bus full of students returned to Charlottesville from seeing a play in Washington. D’Sean Perry, a linebacker for the school’s team who had played on behalf of the school the previous day, was killed, as was wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler. Dontayvion Wicks and Mike Hollins were injured but survived.
On Monday night, an impromptu vigil drew a large crowd of mourners. Pictures showed thousands of students gathered outside the university’s Old Cabell Hall on the main campus’s rotunda, holding candles.
A university-wide vigil was being planned for a later date. Gov. Glenn Youngkin ordered flags lowered to half-staff on Tuesday in respect and memory of the victims, their families and the Charlottesville community.
The vigil was held after officials revealed following his arrest that Jones Jr. was already known to police, having been on their radar since September over a ‘hazing investigation’.
Speaking after his son’s arrest, Christopher Darnell Jones Sr. described him as a ‘sensitive young man’ that seemed excited to celebrate his 23rd birthday on Thursday. Jones Sr. expressed his disbelief that his son was involved, and said he wished to speak with his son face-to-face so he can find answers.
The vigil was held after officials revealed following his arrest that Jones Jr. was already known to police, having been on their radar since September over a ‘hazing investigation’. Pictured: UVa Police Chief Tim Longo gives an update on the shooting
‘I can’t believe it was him,’ Jones Sr. told NBC12. ‘I still can’t believe it now.’
Jones Sr. said he separated from his wife and son when Jones Jr. was still a young boy. But when Jones Jr. stopped getting on with his mother, he moved in with Jones Sr. and his grandmother in Petersburg.
There, he played football for Petersburg High School and ‘excelled’, Jones Sr. said, telling the news outlet that he was ‘everyone’s friend’. ‘Everybody loved Chris, and he had a movie star smile he would flash,’ he said.
However, last time he spoke with his son, Jones Sr. said something was wrong. His son has seemed normal when they spoke. He said she visited her house to do laundry, and that they ‘sat and talked’.
Jones Jr. also told his father that some people had been ‘giving him a hard time’, but that he was still ‘upbeat’. ‘I don’t know what happened between then and now to cause this to happen,’ he said.
‘He had some problems the last time I talked to him. He said some people were picking on him or whatever, he didn’t know how to handle it and I told him just go to school, don’t pay it any mind’ the distraught father said.
‘He was really paranoid when I talked to him about something, but he wouldn’t tell me everything. He was a very sensitive young man.’
The last time the father and son spoke was a month ago. Jones Sr. expressed regret that his son did not call him. If he did, Jones Sr. said, maybe he could have done something to prevent the tragedy.
‘What happened? Why did it have to get this far? He could’ve called me,’ he told NBC12. ‘I don’t know why he didn’t call me Saturday. If he had called me Saturday, I think maybe I could have talked him out of some things, maybe, hopefully.’
The 22-year-old UVA student and suspect is currently being held in Henrico jail, and has an arraignment set for Tuesday at at Albemarle County General District Court.
He is facing three counts of second-degree murder, among other charges.
Jones Sr. now wants to speak to his son face-to-face, and said his heart goes out to the families of the victims of Sunday’s shooting. ‘I don’t know what to say except I’m sorry on his behalf, and I apologize. He’s not a bad kid. He really isn’t,’ Jones Sr. told the news outlet.
‘I just don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened to cause all of this.’
During their search for Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., police swarmed his mother’s house. He wasn’t there, however. It is not clear whether he was trying to reach his family before being arrested.
NBC12 reported seeing his mother sobbing in her car, later telling the outlet that she had tried to call her son several times but was unable to reach him on his phone.
The vigil appeared to be peaceful and calm on the Virginia campus on Monday night
Students who were told to shelter in place beginning late Sunday described terrifying hours in hiding.
They huddled inside laboratory closets and darkened dorm rooms across campus, while others moved far away from library windows and barricaded the doors of its stately academic buildings after an ominous warning flashed on their screens: ‘RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.’ They listened to police scanners and tried to remember everything they were taught as children during active-shooter drills.
‘I think all of us were just really unsettled and trying to keep, you know, our cool and level heads during the situation,’ student Shannon Lake said. ‘This will probably affect our campus for a very, very long time.’
For 12 hours, Lake hid with friends and other students, much of that time in a storage closet, while authorities searched into Monday morning for the suspect before he was taken into custody.
When Lake and the others heard someone might be right outside the business school building, they all decided to go into the closet, turn off the lights and barricade the door.
‘That was probably the most terrifying moment because it became more real to us, and reminded us of those practice school lockdowns as children. And it was just kind of a surreal moment where, you know, I don’t think any of us were really processing what was going on,’ she said.
Charlotte Goeb, a student who lives in an apartment about a half-mile away from where the shooting scene, immediately checked her doors and shut off the lights after getting an alert from the school.
‘I’m having a hard time coming to terms that this was happening,’ she said. ‘Even though you spend all of your upbringing knowing this can happen.’
Ellie Wilkie, a fourth-year student, was about to leave her room on the university’s prestigious, historic Lawn at the center of campus when her group texts with friends began exploding with word of the shooting. But she didn’t barricade herself in right away.
‘I think our generation has been so habituated to these being drills and this being commonplace that I didn’t even think it was all that serious until I got an email that said, `Run. Hide. Fight,’ all caps,’ she said.
Wilkie moved a large trunk she uses for storage in front of the door and put her mattress on top of that. She turned off the lights, unplugged anything that might make noise, put her phone on do-not-disturb mode, got under the covers of her top bunk and texted her mother, who called back, terrified.
She picked up but told her mother: ‘I have to get off the phone now. I can’t be making noise in here.’
Elizabeth Paul was working at a desktop computer in the Clemons library when she got a call from her mom about the shooting. She thought it was probably something minor until the computer she was using lit up with a warning about an active shooter.
She spent about 12 hours huddled with several others underneath windows in the library, hoping that if gunfire did erupt, they would be out of sight. She spent most of the night on the phone with her mother.
‘Not even talking to her the whole time necessarily, but she wanted the line to be on so that if I needed something she was there,’ Paul said.
Em Gunter, a second-year anthropology student, heard three gunshots and then three more while she was studying genetics in her dorm room. She told everyone on her floor to go in their rooms, shut their blinds and turn off the lights. Students know from active shooter drills how to respond, she said.
‘But how do we deal with it afterwards?’ she asked. ‘What’s it going to be like in a week, in a month?’
Eva Surovell, the editor in chief of the student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, noted that her generation grew up with ‘generalized gun violence.’ ‘But that doesn’t make it any easier when it’s your own community,’ she said.
A sign out front of St. Paul’s Memorial Church informs of a prayer service in response to the shootings that happened on the University of Virginia campus the night before, in Charlottesville on November 14
Officials got word during a morning news briefing that the suspect, Jones Jr. had been arrested. ‘
Just give me a moment to thank God, breathe a sigh of relief,’ university Police Chief Timothy Longo Sr. said after learning Jones was in custody.
University President Jim Ryan said authorities did not have a ‘full understanding’ of the motive or circumstances of the shooting. ‘The entire university community is grieving this morning,’ a visibly strained Ryan said.
The killings happened at a time when the nation is on edge from a string of mass shootings during the last six months, including an attack that killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb that killed seven people and wounded more than 30; and a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people and wounded three.
Ryan identified the three slain students as Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.
Two students were wounded and hospitalized, Ryan said. Mike Hollins, a running back on the football team, was in stable condition Monday, his mother, Brenda Hollins, told The Associated Press.
‘Mike is a fighter – and he’s showing it,’ she said after flying to Virginia from Louisiana. ‘We have great doctors who have been working with him. And most importantly, we have God’s grace and God’s hands on him.’
The shooting touched off an intense manhunt that included a building-by-building search of the campus. The lockdown order was lifted late Monday morning.
Jones was taken into custody without incident in suburban Richmond, police said.
The arrest warrants for Jones charged him with three counts of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, Longo said.
It was not immediately clear whether Jones had an attorney or when he would make his first court appearance.
A Virginia State Trooper walks to a tow truck as a bus believed to be the site of the overnight shooting is hooked up
Jones had once been on the football team, but he had not been part of the team for at least a year, Longo said. The UVA football website listed him as a team member during the 2018 season and said he did not play in any games.
Hours after Jones was arrested, first-year head football coach Tony Elliott sat alone outside the athletic building used by the team, at times with his head in his hands. He said the victims ‘were all good kids.’
‘These precious young men were called away too soon. We are all fortunate to have them be a part of our lives. They touched us, inspired us and worked incredibly hard as representatives of our program, university and community,’ he said in a statement.
Jones came to the attention of the university’s threat-assessment team this fall after a person unaffiliated with the school reported a remark Jones apparently made about possessing a gun, Longo said. No threat was reported in conjunction with the concern about the weapon, but officials looked into it, following up with Jones’ roommate.
Longo also said Jones had been involved in a ‘hazing investigation of some sort.’ He said he did not have all the facts and circumstances of that case, though he said the probe was closed after witnesses failed to cooperate.
In addition, officials learned about a prior incident outside Charlottesville involving a weapons violation, Longo said. That incident was not reported to the university as it should have been, he said.
‘Because I want to be transparent with you, I want you to know that … Mr. Jones came to the attention of the University of Virginia’s threat assessment team in the fall of 2022 because he was involved in a hazing investigation of some sort,’ Longo said on Monday.
‘I don’t know the facts and circumstances of that investigation. I know it was eventually closed due to witnesses who would not cooperate with the process. But through the course of the threat assessment team’s investigation, they received information that Mr. Jones had made a comment about possessing a gun to a person that was unaffiliated with the university,’ he said.
‘The incident involved a concealed weapon violation that occurred outside the city of Charlottesville in February 2021. What’s interesting about that case [is] he’s required as a student at the University of Virginia to report that, and he never did, so the university has taken appropriate administrative charges through the university’s judiciary council, and that matter is still pending adjudication.’
The person who reported Jones to the police did not witness him with the weapon firsthand – nor was he perceived as a threat at the time. When the school looked into the February 2021 allegation and checked in with Jones’ roommates, none could confirm that they had ever seen him with a gun.
Nevertheless, Jones had also become known to the university’s threat assessment team after a hazing incident whereupon it was discovered he had a criminal record. Jones was facing a pending disciplinary matter after failing to report the episode as would have been required by students at the school.
A pedestrian stands in front of a fraternity house with a banner memorializing three University of Virginia football players killed during an overnight shooting at the university on November 14, 2022
Scores of worshippers gathered Monday evening on campus at St. Paul’s Memorial Church for a prayer service.
‘Have pity on us and all who mourn for Devin, Lavel and D’Sean, innocent people slaughtered by the violence of our fallen world,’ an officiant said in prayer.
The shooting is the latest in a wave of gun violence on U.S. college and high school campuses in recent years.
The bloodshed has fueled the debate over tighter restrictions on access to guns in the United States, where the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.
Sunday night’s shooting is not the first to have rocked a Virginia college campus this year. In February, two campus police officers were shot and killed as they responded to reports of a ‘suspicious man’ near a building housing classrooms.