Auburn shooter on the run, reward raised to $30,000 -, GA News Weather & Sports

Montgomery police defend hunt for Auburn shooter

Police released this image of Desmonte Leonard, 22, who they suspect opened fire at a party, killing 3 and injuring 3. (Source: Auburn Police Division) Police released this image of Desmonte Leonard, 22, who they suspect opened fire at a party, killing 3 and injuring 3. (Source: Auburn Police Division)
The scene of the standoff located in a neighborhood off of Young Farm Road between Vaughn and Bell Road on Barons Court. (Source: WSFA) The scene of the standoff located in a neighborhood off of Young Farm Road between Vaughn and Bell Road on Barons Court. (Source: WSFA)

AUBURN, AL (RNN) – Desmonte Leonard is still a free man.

Investigators from multiple law enforcement agencies spent more than eight hours searching a house Monday night in Montgomery, AL, exhausting all tactical efforts to smoke out the man accused of opening fire near the campus of Auburn University, killing three people and wounding three more.

Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said in a news conference Tuesday morning that Leonard, 22, has managed to evade capture and is probably still in Montgomery. A reward for information leading to his arrest was raised to $30,000.

In a separate news conference Tuesday, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said police did the right thing when dozens of law enforcement officers converged upon the house about 6:30 p.m., working into well into the night to try to flush out the suspect.

"If that same set of circumstances happens tonight, we would do that same thing," Strange said. "We know there's at least one, if not two that have tried to give us misinformation."

Montgomery Police received a tip from the owner of the house saying a person matching Leonard's description was inside the house, sitting on their couch. Dawson said the tip turned out to be a dud.

Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy said Tuesday FBI spokesman Douglas Astralaga was misquoted when he said police went to the wrong house.

"We have not rested, we will not rest [until the suspect is found]," Dawson said Tuesday. "If he's out there watching today, I implore him, this has gone on long enough. We're going to apprehend him."

Police used thermal technology and other methods to determine there was a person in the attic. Investigators also said they heard coughing and movement in the attic, but in the end, authorities said they found the attic to be empty.

Strange said authorities believe Leonard was at the house at some point during the day, but the gap between police arriving and the calls may have provided him the opportunity to escape. The gap was between 15 and 20 minutes, Strange said.

Murphy told members of the press that while officers were searching the home, authorities were following other leads in other parts of Montgomery.

Leonard is wanted on three capital murder warrants. Police have said Leonard opened fire at a party at University Heights apartment complex Saturday night, just 1 1/2 miles from Auburn University.

Three people were killed, including two former Auburn football players. Two others were treated for gunshot wounds, while a third is still fighting for his life at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center.

Police tipped off by 911 call, U.S. Marshals: Shooter allegedly in Montgomery house

During the standoff, Strange said officers had not made visual contact with the person in the house, but that officers received two 911 calls, one which "indicated that a person who looked like this suspect might be in this house." The other call reported a person who looked like the suspect was in the neighborhood.

According to Strange, the area where the house is located was also identified as a "possible location that the suspect might be in," and police had been in the area for a day or so.

U.S. Marshals were the first to be tipped off to Leonard's supposed presence in the house. An unidentified person told the agency he or she had dropped Leonard off at the house earlier in the day.

Murphy said the person who dropped Leonard off knew he was a suspect and was aiding him. As a result, he or she may face criminal charges.

Around the same time, Montgomery officials got their first 911 call that the suspect may be in the home.

A woman told emergency responders she had come home from work and found someone who matched Leonard's description on her couch.

Officers fired tear gas into the home in an attempt to get the suspect to surrender and tried to negotiate, but were unable to make verbal contact with him.

Murphy said the bottom floor of the house had been cleared and a tactical team went inside.

"It is a slow, methodical process," Murphy said. "The tactical team is highly armed and highly trained."

Murphy said officers continued to get "physical indicators he's alive, he's just hunkered down," but said sending teams into the attic would be risky.

"You start looking for someone who may be armed, someone who has nothing to lose, you just cannot rush it," he said.

By the night's end, WSFA reported that Murphy and Strange were visibility disappointed that they were unable to find the suspect. They could not confirm the movement inside the attic was from Leonard.

Investigators drilled holes into walls and tore up parts of the house in their search. Strange said they were going to search the attic, as well as air conditioning ducts, for the suspect. Authorities said they would repay the homeowner for the damage.

Strange said that authorities "will spare no expense" in prosecuting if anyone purposely provides false information to authorities.

Earlier Monday, police announced they had made two arrests in the case, but Leonard had still eluded capture.

Three killed, three injured after gunfire erupts at late night party

Six people were shot after an argument at a party around 10 p.m. Saturday night.

Former Auburn offensive lineman Ed Christian, 20, and fullback LaDarious Phillips, 20, were both shot to death. Christian had been playing with the team, but left because of injury and was found dead at the scene. Phillips was pronounced dead at the East Alabama Medical Center.

Auburn resident DeMario Pitts, 20, was also killed.

Another player set to join the team's offensive line, 20-year-old Eric Mack, was among the injured, although he is expected to survive. Xavier Moss, 19, was treated and released from the East Alabama Medical Center. John Robertson, 20, is still struggling for life at the UAB Medical Center with critical injuries.

"It was a fight that obviously someone got out of hand and shot and killed three people and critically injured another," Dawson said Sunday.

Police said they found a possible motive, but would not discuss the details of the case.

A witness to the shooting told Birmingham's WBRC the fight started over a woman.

"It went from us chilling with females to a massacre … for no reason," an unidentified witness told Montgomery affiliate WSFA.

The case is being investigated by the Auburn Police Division, the FBI, the U.S. Marshal's Service, the Lee County Coroner's Office and the State Medical Examiner's Office. Members of the Montgomery and Opelika police departments and the Lee County and Macon County sheriff's offices are also assisting in the case.

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Desmonte Leonard turned himself in to authorities after a three-day manhunt. Leonard, 22, is accused of killing three people at an off-campus party near Auburn University. More>>

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