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A college student was shot as he cradled his dying friend

An 18-year-old freshman at Northern Arizona University has been charged with first-degree murder with officials saying he opened fire on a group of students after a late-night conflict in a parking lot, leaving one student dead and three others injured early Friday.

It was the second shooting on or near a college campus Friday to leave a student dead. In Texas, one student was killed and another person was injured after someone opened fire outside a Texas Southern University dormitory.

The Northern Arizona University suspect, identified by campus police as Steven Jones, surrendered his handgun to campus police and was taken into custody not long after the 1:20 a.m. incident, authorities said.

“He stopped his action with his handgun and everything calmed down for a few minutes as our officers arrived,” campus police Chief Greg Fowler told reporters in Flagstaff.

Jones also faces three counts of aggravated assault, and a judge set his bail at $2 million during a Friday afternoon court appearance, according to the Arizona Republic. 

The newspaper reported that Deputy Coconino County Attorney Ammon Barker said that after an argument turned into a fight, "The defendant then ran to his car, retrieved his [.40-caliber] gun and then went back to the fight.…I just want to be clear, there is no indication of self-defense. The defendant shot four unarmed individuals, killing one of them."

University officials on Friday morning identified the slain student as freshman Colin Brough.

Brough, along with the three other students shot in the incident, was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity, which requested help from the university to provide counseling and other help to its members on campus. (The suspect was not a member of the fraternity.)

Brough was a lifeguard at the Flagstaff Aquaplex, a city swimming facility, which closed for the rest of Friday to mourn his death. He had also worked as a lifeguard in Castle Rock, Colo., where he graduated from Castle View High School in 2013. On Facebook, Brough listed his hometown as Annapolis, Md.

At Northern Arizona University, Brough was also a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, an honor society for first-year students.

Brough loved playing lacrosse and basketball in addition to skateboarding and snowboarding, said one of his friends from Annapolis, Jason Egelanian, 20.

Brough was a “super, super-lighthearted happy person, very, very peaceful, loved his family and friends,” said Egelanian, now a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who said he was “crushed” at the news of the shooting.

“I’ve been crying all morning, I can’t believe it, man,” Egelanian said. “He’s my best friend, I’ve been bawling my eyes out.…I’m angry, a lot of anger, too. I’m angry at this person who decided he had to shoot people.…It’s a good chance I’ll be in that trial room watching that kid get sent off to the death penalty in Arizona.”

In Arizona, which offers the death penalty as a punishment for first-degree murder cases with defendants older than 18, the state has to file notice to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors and a private attorney representing Jones couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The three wounded students were Nicholas Prato, Kyle Zientek and Nicholas Piring. Hospital and university officials did not release their conditions.

“Nick Dimo Prato was hit in the neck and is currently in ICU,” his aunt, Terri Prato Gilgour, wrote on Facebook on Friday morning. She could not be immediately reached for comment. “Sadly, his best friend was killed in front of him.”

Prato's Facebook profile suggests he is from Oceanside, Calif. His girlfriend, Abbey Norcutt, apparently witnessed the shooting and was also shot at, according to her father.

“Nick ran to help his friend,” Earl Norcutt, who said he was at an emergency room in Flagstaff, wrote in a Facebook post. He and his daughter couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“Shooter had apparently fallen, then turned and shot Nick as he was holding his friend. Our Abbey was holding the other, second one shot, and was calling 911 as Nick was shot. She escaped being hit by the shooter as she ran,” the post said.

Maria Gonzalez, a student at the university, told the Associated Press she heard the shots but did not initially realize it was gunfire.

“I was studying for an exam, so I looked out the window and see two people running, and that’s when I realized they weren’t fireworks, they were actually gunshots,” she said.

“How am I supposed to feel safe where I’m learning?” she said.

The incident occurred outside Mountainview Hall dormitory, but authorities said they could not immediately say what led up to the confrontation.

“We don’t know the facts yet about what brought them together, or what caused the confrontation,” Fowler said.

Like other major Arizona campuses, Northern Arizona University does not allow students to carry guns on campus.

“Arizona law allows you to have your gun in a car in a locked compartment on campus. That’s where it has to stay. You cannot carry it around on campus,” Fowler said.

He said he did not know whether the gunman had the weapon in his possession already when the confrontation first broke out.

Social-media accounts under Jones’ name identified him as “NAU Class of '19,” and his Instagram account consists primarily of photos of himself, including some photos of Jones posing with guns.

One Instagram photo from 13 weeks ago showed Jones wearing American-flag attire and holding a shotgun over his shoulder. An older photo, from more than two years ago, showed Jones posing with a submachine gun. “It’s a full auto kinda day,” he wrote.

An “error” prevented the university’s alert system from widely distributing warnings after the shooting happened at 1:20 a.m., according to a statement from the school. A final “all clear” message was sent to the entire campus at 2:52 a.m., the statement said.

University officials said classes would continue as scheduled Friday, although university President Rita Hartung Cheng said: “This is not going to be a normal day at NAU. Our hearts are heavy.”

The university planned to offer support to students through its counseling services.

"I appreciate the efforts of all state and local law enforcement officials, first-responders and school administrators, and continue to pray for the recovery of the injured, as well as all those in the NAU community who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy," U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

NEWSLETTER: Get the day's top headlines from Times Editor Davan Maharaj >>

“All Arizonans have the #Flagstaff community in their hearts today,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said on Twitter.

The shooting comes as President Obama is scheduled to visit Roseburg, Ore., where eight students and a teacher were shot and killed last week at Umpqua Community College. The

Oregon gunman committed suicide after a shootout with law enforcement, authorities said.

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

3:58 p.m.: This post has been updated with the suspect being charged and additional interviews.

12:05 p.m.: This post has had been updated with additional information about the alleged gunman.

9:22 a.m.: This post has been updated with the identities of the victims

7:06 a.m.: This post has been updated throughout with additional details.

5:57 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details.

4:51 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details.  

This story was originally published at 3:33 a.m. 

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