UPDATED: 7:00 p.m. ET, Nov. 16, with testimony at first court appearance.
Original story published on Nov. 15.
The accused gunman behind a deadly mass shooting on the University of Virginia’s campus last weekend “targeted” his victims, a witness told the police, according to reports from the suspect’s initial court appearance on Wednesday.
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. not only opened fire in the confined space of a bus on Sunday night, but he also intentionally shot one of the three people he killed while they were sleeping, a prosecutor claimed in Albemarle General District Court in Charlottesville.
According to Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley, Devin Chandler, one of three players on the University of Virginia’s football team killed in the shooting, was asleep when Jones allegedly started shooting for reasons that still have not been made completely clear.
During the court appearance, Jones asked for private legal representation instead of a court-appointed lawyer, prompting the judge to hold him without bail until he can retain a defense attorney.
Jones was arrested late Monday afternoon, about 12 hours after allegedly opening fire on a bus containing players on the University of Virginia’s football team in a parking garage on campus.
In addition to killing Chandler, a wide receiver, linebacker and defensive end D’Sean Perry and wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. lost their lives.
Two others were injured, including another football player, but both are expected to make full recoveries.
It was not clear if they were intentionally targeted in the shooting.
Jones, 22, a student at the University of Virginia and former member of its football team, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in a felony as law enforcement officials work to figure out what led to the shooting.
Here’s what we know about Jones’ possible motive for carrying out a deadly shooting against the University of Virginia football players on the university’s Charlottesville campus.
A fight on the bus
One eyewitness who was on the bus where the shooting happened said Jones was physically aggressive with Davis.
“Chris got up and pushed and pushed Lavel,” Ryan Lynch, a 19-year-old Black woman student at the University of Virginia, told Philadelphia television station KYW. “After he pushed him, he was like ‘You guys are always messing with me.’ He said something like that but it was really bizarre because they didn’t talk to him the whole trip.”
Lynch said everybody on the bus feared for their lives when Jones opened fire.
“We thought he was going to shoot everyone in the bus at that point,” Lynch said. “I thought we all were going to die.”
Lynch described the bus trip to D.C. as a “bonding experience” before the shooting broke out.
“They just kept coming more and more gunshots just wouldn’t stop,” Lynch said.”The shooter just sort of skipped off the bus when I saw him pass.”
‘Some people were picking on him’
Jones’ father said on Monday that he was in disbelief at the shooting and suggested to reporters that his son may have been bullied in some form.
“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” Christopher Darnell Jones Sr. told Richmond-based NBC 12. “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.”
However, Jones Jr. was cautious not to specifically attribute the shooting to those “problems” he mentioned.
“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. added. “I just don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened to cause all of this.”
During the manhunt for Jones, University of Virginia Police Chief Tim Longo told reporters that the suspect was previously alleged to have a gun in separate instances and suggested that hazing may have played a role.
“In September of 2022, our Office of Student Affairs reported to the multidisciplinary threat assessment team that Mr. Jones, they received information that Mr. Jones had made a comment about possessing a gun to a person that was unaffiliated with the university,” Longo said.
While no actual threats were reported in that instance, Longo said that wasn’t the only reason Jones was on his department’s radar.
“Mr. Jones, also had come to the attention of our threat assessment team, because he was involved in a hazing investigation of some sort,” Longo continued. “We learned of a prior criminal incident involving a concealed weapon violation that occurred outside the city of Charlottesville in February of 2021.”
That hazing report was closed after no one would cooperate with police investigators. The nature of the hazing was not clear.
Longo said Jones never reported that incident to the University of Virginia, as is required under university policy. He added, “the university has taken appropriate administrative charges through the university’s judiciary council, and that matter is still pending adjudication.”
Jones came from a ‘fractured family’
A glimpse into Jones’ past may provide some clues about Sunday night’s shooting.
In a profile published by the Richmond Times Dispatch in 2018, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. was described as a soon-to-be high school graduate who had a history of “a fractured family, school fighting and suspensions, and one that began in Richmond, in two-bedroom apartments in the Essex Village and Mosby Court housing complexes.”
Still, a flattering team bio remains live on the University of Virginia’s athletics website and paints Jones in a positive light. It describes Jones as a one-time football player who was on the Cavaliers’ roster for one season in 2018, though it also said he never played one game.
The bio includes information about Jones in high school in Petersburg, Virginia:
Played linebacker and running back at Petersburg High School for head coach Michael Scott … earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a senior … spent first three years of high school at Varina High School where he earned honorable mention all-conference as a freshman and second-team accolades as a sophomore and junior … member of the National Honor Society … National Technical Honor Society … president of Key Club … president of Jobs for Virginia Grads Program … named Student of the Year as a freshman and sophomore at Varina … son of Margo Ellis and Christopher Jones, Sr. … has three siblings, Eliza, Darrius and Varian.
Meanwhile, donations were pouring into a GoFundMe account created on behalf of one of the slain football players. The online fundraising effort for Lavel “Tyler” Davis Jr. quickly exceeded its goal of $20,000 within hours and has since garnered nearly $70,000 as of early Tuesday morning.
The GoFundMe for Davis was started by a friend of his family who had nothing but glowing words for the young college athlete:
Our hearts are heavy this morning as we wake up to hear of the shooting death of my friend Fallom’s son Tyler. Tyler was a star both on and off the field. He played his heart out for UVA and wanted to be the best, and he was. He loved his parents, his family, his community, and he had a love for football like no other. He worked hard coming back from two injuries to be one of the best college football players in the country. He was a rising star (both on and off the field) and the world was seeing what we all had known for a long time, that he was a talented one of a kind kid. His death is tragic and I cannot begin to imagine the pain that his mom and dad, brother and sister, and extended family is feeling. Please help us lessen the burden and donate to assist with travel to and from Virginia and funeral expenses as this family takes on this terrible tragedy. Thank you in advance.
Jones is expected to make his first appearance in court on Wednesday.