AUBURN, Alabama (Reuters) - Three men including two former Auburn University football players were shot dead and three others including a current player were wounded when an argument at a pool party at an off-campus apartment complex escalated, police said on Sunday.
Two of those shot to death, Edward Christian and Ladarious Phillips, both 20, no longer played for Auburn. A current member of the team, Eric Mack, also 20, was wounded and admitted to East Alabama Medical Center. His condition was not released.
The third fatality was Demario Pitts, 20, police said.
The three athletes were members of Auburn’s 2010 recruiting class and joined the team that season, which ended with the Auburn Tigers winning the national championship.
Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson identified the suspect as 22-year-old Desmonte Leonard of Montgomery, the state capital, and said he was being sought on three counts of capital murder.
Leonard fled the scene in a white Chevrolet Caprice with two other men, who were considered “persons of interest,” Dawson said, declining to identify them.
“They know who they are and it would be in their best interest to turn themselves in,” Dawson told a news conference.
The vehicle was found abandoned in nearby Macon County.
U.S. Marshals and the FBI were assisting the investigation, Dawson said.
Police received a call reporting shots fired at 10:03 p.m. Saturday, and Christian was pronounced dead at the scene. The other two fatally wounded men died at the hospital.
A fifth victim was treated and released. The sixth was taken to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital with a gunshot wound to the head, Dawson said. He was in critical condition on Sunday.
“This is a tragic day for the Auburn family,” Mayor Bill Ham Jr. told Reuters. “It’s just beyond my capacity to understand. It’s senseless.”
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said the county, which includes Auburn, typically suffers annual homicides “in the single digits.”
“This is pretty much unprecedented,” Jones said.
Phillips was from Roanoke, Alabama, and Christian was from Valdosta, Georgia. Mack is from St. Matthews, South Carolina.
“This is a sad, sad day for everyone associated with the entire Auburn family. I am devastated by the passing of three young men ... and my heart goes out to their families,” Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik said in a statement. “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.”
Reporting by Tom Bassing; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman