Accused U-Va. gunman was scrutinized by threat assessment team for weapon

Mike Kropf/The Daily Progress via AP
University of Virginia students participate in a vigil in response to shootings that happened on campus the night before in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.

The 22-year-old University of Virginia student accused of killing three football players on campus was being investigated by the school for claiming he owned a gun and had been convicted of a concealed weapons violation in a separate incident last year, university officials said Monday night.

Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. was arrested at 11 a.m. Monday nearly 80 miles from campus in Henrico County, ending a massive manhunt that had begun 12 hours earlier and led the Charlottesville university to shut down throughout the night.

Jones, who briefly played on U-Va.’s football team in 2018, had joined about 25 other students Sunday on a school trip to Washington, where the group watched a play and ate together, the university’s chief of police, Timothy Longo Sr., said at a news conference. When the students returned to campus, Jones allegedly opened fire at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday for reasons that remain unknown.

Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry died, and two other people were wounded, police said.

University of Virginia Athletics via AP
This combo of undated image provided by University of Virginia Athletics shows NCAA college football players, from left, Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry. The three Virginia football players were killed in a shooting, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Charlottesville, Va., while returning from a class trip to see a play.

On Sept. 15, during a review by student affairs into a “potential hazing issue,” a student informed school staffers that Jones had said he owned a gun, university officials told The Washington Post on Monday night. The person had not seen the gun and said that Jones did not make any threats.

School officials spoke with Jones’s roommate, who didn’t report seeing Jones with a firearm. But Jones himself wouldn’t answer any questions.

In the course of the investigation, university officials learned that, in 2021, Jones had been convicted of a misdemeanor concealed weapons violation in Henrico County and received a 12-month suspended sentence, school officials said. The Post could not locate a court record of the conviction.

“Throughout the investigation, Mr. Jones repeatedly refused to cooperate with university officials who were seeking additional information about the claims that he had a firearm and about his failure to disclose the previous misdemeanor conviction,” officials said.

As a result, the school’s threat assessment team “escalated his case for disciplinary action” on Oct. 27 – a little more than two weeks before the shooting.

A man who opened the door at Jones’s mother’s house and identified himself as his 19-year-old brother blamed the shooting on “bullying,” but he wouldn’t elaborate or say who Jones claimed had harassed him.

“He just got fed up. … Nobody was listening,” the teen said. “He had nowhere to go, he had nobody to talk to, so he finally gave up. And that’s life, right? Everybody’s got their breaking point.”

Jones, now charged with three counts of second-degree murder, had once been celebrated as a model of perseverance, overcoming a difficult childhood to earn his spot on the university’s football team.

He spent his early years living in Richmond public housing complexes, where it was often too dangerous to play outside, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported in a 2018 profile. At night, while his mother worked, Jones was sometimes responsible for feeding his three siblings, walking to nearby grocery stores to pick up ramen noodles or bologna. When he was 5, his parents divorced and his father left, a loss that he called “one of the most traumatic things that happened to me in my life.”

“When I went to school, people didn’t understand me,” Jones, then 18, said, telling a reporter that he attacked other children who bullied him for being smart, leading to suspensions and stints in alternative school.

A woman who identified herself as Jones’s mother, Margo, answered a Post reporter’s call Monday morning.

“I can tell you now that Chris was a good kid,” she said, before hanging up.

Brion Logan, his close friend and teammate in middle and high school, recalled Jones being taunted as a child.

“Chris would wear outdated clothes and outdated shoes that a lot of people did not wear at the time, and they’d make fun of him because of his situation,” said Logan, a 22-year-old Navy enlistee. “He was always a nice person. He grew up in an unfortunate situation with his dad not being in his life too much and his mom not being the best off financially.”

Despite the chaos in his life, Jones always made good grades.

“I would get upset because my intelligence was being insulted. Kids would pick on me – ‘Why did you do that? Why did you answer that question?’ ” Jones told the Times-Dispatch. “And in that world, disrespect means you should fight.”

When he reached sixth grade, his family moved to Varina, about 10 miles outside Richmond. There, he found mentors, especially through football, but his relationship with his mother fell apart.

In search of a “new start” in 2016, he moved to Petersburg, Va., to live with his grandmother, Mary Jones. The Times-Dispatch story reported that over the next two years, mentors “helped him let go of his anger.”

“He always had strong goals. He was ambitious, but his anger simply got in the way,” one of those mentors, Xavier Richardson, said back then. “I try to help him understand that he has been able to succeed despite his obstacles, and he can thrive from them.”

Jones appeared to flourish in the years that followed. He posted a smiling image of himself to Facebook, apparently marking a birthday: “Certain people counted me out, said I never make it to see this day. . .. . .. well I’m here ya heard me.”

He played linebacker and running back at Petersburg High, earning honorable mention all-conference honors as a senior, according to a football biography on the University of Virginia website. He was a member of the National Honor Society and the National Technical Honor Society and served as president of both the Key Club and the Jobs for Virginia Graduates program.

Nothing motivated him more than football.

“He was so passionate and he played with such high energy. He was always a hyper person,” Logan said. “He would yell and scream every time he got a tackle.”

He was the only senior at Petersburg who planned to attend the University of Virginia, where he was listed on the roster in 2018 as a 5-foot-9, 195-pound freshman running back.

Two fellow players said Jones wasn’t on the team for more than a few months, if that. Both had only one clear memory of him: performing in a team talent show.

“He sang a song, something I think he’d written himself because he wanted to be a singer,” one player recalled. “And the whole team got hyped and rallied around him. We welcomed him with open arms and unconditional love.”

When Logan last saw Jones, around 2019, he seemed to be happy and doing well in school.

“He enjoyed being away from all the negativity,” Logan said. “He was always a great student, since middle school.”

On Monday morning, Richardson, citing the open investigation, declined to discuss how his former mentee could have gone from those moments of triumph to a young man accused of killing his college classmates.

But another person who knew him well said she was confounded by the allegations.

Tracie Baines struggled to imagine Jones, who turns 23 this week, as a “vicious, vile killer.” She said that he and her daughter had been chosen to serve as co-masters of ceremony at Petersburg High’s opening convocation their senior year.

What she remembered most about Jones was the devotion he had for his grandmother, bringing her groceries and ensuring she took her medication.

“I’m not denying or downplaying what happened to those who died. But knowing him as I do, something happened to him,” she said. “Something else was going on.”