- Associated Press - Sunday, June 10, 2012

AUBURN, Ala. — A gunman opened fire during a fight at a party at an apartment complex near Auburn University, killing three people, including two former school football players, authorities said Sunday.

Three other people were injured. One of them was listed in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head.

Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said during a news conference that current football player Eric Mack was among those wounded and was being treated at a hospital. Authorities were searching for suspect Desmonte Leonard, who faces capital-murder charges.

Slain were Edward Christian, who had not been playing because of a back injury, and Ladarious Phillips, who had quit playing football. The other person killed was 20-year-old Demario Pitts.

Officials said Xavier Moss and John Robertson were wounded. Mr. Robertson had been shot in the head and was in critical condition; Mr. Moss was released from the hospital.

Chief Dawson stressed that the football team was connected to the shooting only because current and former players were victims.

“The only connection that the Auburn football team has to this is they are victims of a brutal shooting. Sometimes the young men get a bad rap, I feel like, but they are the victims today,” Chief Dawson said. “Them being football players really has nothing to do with this. They’re victims of a shooting.”

The chief urged Mr. Leonard to surrender and said authorities were searching for two other people of interest.

Turquorius Vines, 23, said he was at the pool party Saturday evening at the University Heights apartments with one of his friends, Mr. Pitts. He said he and his friend were approached by two other men who started arguing with them over a woman.

Mr. Vines said he punched one of the men, while Mr. Pitts hit both of the men over the head with a bottle. Either one or both of the two men who approached them then started shooting, he said. He said his friend was fatally shot and two others were hit by gunfire. Mr. Vines said he had never before seen the men with whom he had been arguing.

“It’s like I lost a lung,” Mr. Vines said of his friend. “I don’t know how I’m going to survive this.”

Several emergency vehicles converged overnight around the University Heights apartment complex where reports indicated a number of students who attend Auburn University typically reside. The building was swathed in yellow police tape.

It appeared that the shooting happened in an archway near the apartment complex information center, near the edge of the parking lot. Five uniformed officers guarded the area, which was sealed off with crime scene tape, and a handful of crime scene investigators were at work.