Auburn police Chief Tommy Dawson said in a press conference Phillips, 20, and fellow ex-football player Edward Christian, 20, were both shot and killed at an Auburn apartment complex. Demario Pitts, 20, also died of a gunshot wound. Dawson said in addition to those killed, three others were injured: Auburn lineman Eric Mack, 20; John Robertson, 20, and Xavier Moss, 19.
"This is a sad, sad day for everyone associated with the entire Auburn family,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said in a statement. “I am devastated by the passing of three young men, including two that I personally knew in Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips and my heart goes out to their families.
“My thoughts and prayers are with their families and all of the victims involved in this tragic incident.”
Police are searching for Desmonte Leonard, 22, of Montgomery, who has been charged with three counts of capital murder in connection to the shooting incident, Dawson said. Police from Auburn and Montgomery, along with federal marshals, are searching for Leonard, Dawson said, and two other persons of interest.
The shooting took place at a party at the apartment complex, Dawson said, where a fight had broken out.
"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," Dawson said.
Turquorius Vines, 23, told the Associated Press he was at the pool party Saturday evening at the University Heights apartments with one of his friends, Pitts. He said he and his friend were approached by two other men who started arguing with them over a woman.
Vines said he punched one of the men, while Pitts hit both of the men over the head with a bottle. Either one or both of the two men then started shooting, he said. He said his friend was shot and killed, while two others also were hit by gunfire. Vines said he had never before seen the men who he had been arguing with.
"It's like I lost a lung," Vines said of his friend. "I don't know how I'm going to survive this."
Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs said the University was providing counseling and support to its student athletes.
"This is a tragic day for the entire Auburn community,” Jacobs said. “First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families who have been devastated by this senseless tragedy.”
According to Chizik, Mack, who played in five games last season, is expected to make a “full recovery.”
Phillips planned transfer to Jax State
Phillips’ abilities and his 6-foot, 291-pound frame made him a star at Handley High in Roanoke. He quickly turned that success into a scholarship with for the Auburn Tigers.
After a redshirt season and another in which he saw limited playing time, Phillips was planning to transfer to Jacksonville State, but had not begun the application process, JSU coach Jack Crowe said today.
“He wanted to be here. He wanted to play. That was the one thing – when I said what position do you want to play, he said he just wanted to get on the field. I think he was a young man who missed being on the field and having a chance to play.”
Phillips made a name for himself at Handley on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. A four-year starter, Phillips rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final three seasons. And as a senior, he was selected to the Class 4A All-State team as a defensive lineman with a season highlighted by 13 tackles for loss and eight sacks. He also won the state championship for he shot put as a junior.
With all his accolades, Auburn almost never happened. Going into the 2010 National Signing Day, Phillips was making a decision between Duke, Louisiana Tech and Georgia Southern.
However, at the last minute a potential signee fell through for Auburn and the Tigers offered Phillips their last scholarship of that signing class. Despite not being an Auburn fan growing up, the day he signed his scholarship he became an Auburn Tiger forever.
"It's like a fairy tale," Phillips told The Star that day in 2010, "to get to play for Auburn, the school that I wanted and playing the offensive position I wanted to play."
Star staff writers Al Muskewitz and Bran Strickland provided reporting for this story, along with Associated Press writers Johnny Clark, Bob Johnson and John Zenor.