Auburn football players among six shot, three killed at party

A hunt was underway Sunday for the man police say shot six young men, killing three and leaving a fourth clinging to life, at an off-campus party near Auburn University in Alabama late Saturday.

The incident reportedly began with a dispute over a woman.

Former Auburn football players Edward Christian and Ladarious Phillips were pronounced dead along with Damario Pitts. All were 20. Although no longer on the team, Christian and Phillips had remained students at the university in Auburn.

John Robertson, 20, was “fighting for his life” and undergoing surgery at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital, Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said at a news conference Sunday. Current player Eric Mack, 20, a lineman, was treated and released, as was Xavier Moss, 19.

“I don’t believe they were targeted; I believe there was a fight and someone got carried away and things went too far,” Dawson said.

Police were hunting for Montgomery, Ala., resident Desmonte Leonard, 22, who was charged with three counts of capital murder.

“We plead with anyone who knows his location, just call 911, wherever you’re at,” Dawson said.

Turquorius Vines, 23, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was partying with friends and former Auburn football players at a University Heights apartment complex a couple of miles from campus shortly before the shooting.

“It was about a female,” Vines said. “It started from a female. We were trying to get away from the trouble and it ended up right in our face.”

Vines told the Associated Press that he and Pitts got into a fight with two men he had never seen before, and one or both of the strangers opened fire. “It’s like I lost a lung,” Vines said. “I don’t know how I’m going to survive this.”

Dawson would not confirm those details other than to say, “It was a party, a fight began, and during the fight shots were fired.”

Police were looking for two more “persons of interest,” Dawson said.

In football-crazy Alabama, Dawson was quick to separate the team from the crime.

“The only connection that the Auburn football team has to this is that they are victims of a brutal shooting,” he said. “Sometimes the young men get a bad rap, I feel like. But they’re the victims today.”

Auburn University President Jay Gogue issued a statement pledging to do everything possible to help authorities and victims. “We’re deeply saddened about last night’s tragic events. ... Our attention is now focused on providing care and support to those touched by this tragedy,” he said.

The Auburn Tigers won the 2010 national championship.