Auburn University's football family has experienced seven Southeastern Conference championships, three Heisman Trophy winners and two Associated Press national titles.
That same family now is dealing with sudden tragedy.
Two members of the 2010 signing class, offensive tackle Edward Christian and fullback Ladarious Phillips, were fatally shot Saturday night when a gunman opened fire during a party at the University Heights apartment complex near campus. A third member of the '10 class, guard Eric Mack, was shot near the hip and was released late Sunday afternoon from the East Alabama Medical Center in neighboring Opelika.
"This is a tragic day for the entire Auburn community," Tigers athletic director Jay 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. We will support the families of the victims in the difficult days ahead in every way that we possibly can.
"Our student-athletes are obviously stunned and deeply saddened, and we are providing counseling and support for them as they grieve the loss of their teammates and friends."
Auburn police on Sunday charged Desmonte Leonard, a 22-year-old from Montgomery, with three counts of capital murder following the deaths of Christian, Phillips and 20-year-old Auburn resident Demario Pitts. Also wounded were John Robertson, who was in critical condition after a shot to the head, and Xavier Moss, who was treated and released.
Leonard has a background of assault, theft and weapons charges.
"The only connection the Auburn football team has to this is that they are victims of a brutal shooting," Auburn police chief Tommy Dawson said. "Sometimes the young men get a bad rap, I feel like, but they are the victims today, and it's not just about the Auburn football players. It's about the other young men who have been injured, especially the young man fighting for his life at UAB."
Dawson implored Leonard to turn himself in, but Leonard remained on the run as of Sunday night. Dawson added that he has a motive for the shootings but didn't disclose it.
Christian, Phillips and Mack redshirted in 2010, when the Tigers went 14-0 and won the national championship. Christian had to give up football last year due to back problems, and Auburn coach Gene Chizik announced in April that Phillips had decided to give up the sport.
Mack played in five games last season and exited spring practice vying for a starting position.
"I am devastated by the passing of three young men, including two that I personally knew in Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips," said Chizik, who held a team meeting Sunday night. "Nobody should ever have to endure such unimaginable grief, and we will love and support the victims' families during this terribly difficult time. We have a lot of people on our football team that are hurting right now, and we are going to do everything we can to help them get through this.
"We are relieved that Eric Mack is expected to make a full recovery. This is a very trying time for everyone involved, and I would just ask that you lift up the victims and their families in your prayers."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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