Auburn Shooting Suspect Desmonte Leonard Under Arrest

ABC News
Auburn Shootings: Desmonte Leonard Surrenders
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Auburn Shootings: Desmonte Leonard Surrenders (ABC News)

The man suspected of a triple murder near Auburn University over the weekend has surrendered to U.S. marshals, a law enforcement official told ABC News.

Desmonte Leonard, 22, was arrested today in Montgomery, Ala., a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity ahead of a news conference.

Attorney Susan James confirmed to AP in a phone interview that Leonard was taken into custody. She said Leonard's family had reached out to her about turn himself in and she arranged for it to take place around 7:50 p.m. at a courthouse in Montgomery.

Earlier, on Monday, Alabama police believed they missed Leonard by minutes when they arrived at a house where he was reported to be hiding.

Investigators from local, national and federal levels had been searching for Leonard around the clock since he allegedly opened fire at a party near Auburn University on Saturday night, killing three people and wounding three others.

The manhunt initially proved fruitless and maddening for the officials, though they suspected he was in Montgomery, where they believed he fled after the shooting.

Leonard was wanted on three counts of capital murder.

Two former Auburn football players, Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian, and another man identified as Demario Pitts, died in the shooting.

Auburn football players Eric Mack, Xavier Moss and John Robertson were wounded, Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said.

Robertson was undergoing surgery for a gunshot wound to the head and "fighting for his life," Dawson added.

All six victims were younger than 21 and police have said that the men were not targeted for being football players, but were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The search seemed to be coming to an end on Monday night when a woman said she walked into a house and saw a man believed to be Leonard sitting on the couch. She called 911 and dozens of officers responded to the scene.

The house was tear-gassed and police technology seemed to indicate some movement in the house, but when a SWAT team finally entered the home, Leonard was nowhere to be found.

"We would not have put the resources out there if we did not fully believe he was there. Once we got there, we fully believed he was still there," Montgomery Director of Public Safety Chris Murphy said at a news conference today.

Authorities said there was a gap of between 15 and 20 minutes from when the 911 call was placed to when officers arrived.

Police said they believe Leonard does have a connection to the house, but not with the woman who claimed to have seen him there. Police would not specify the connection, but said it was not a family member's home.

"It's hard for us to discern exactly when he left and exactly when we arrived," Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy said at the news conference. "It's very close."

Despite the setback, police vowed that they will work 24 hours a day until Leonard is apprehended and the reward for his capture and arrest has been increased to $30,000.

"We still implore anyone that has information about where Mr. Leonard may be to give us a call," Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawsom said at a news conference today. "We will continue to search for Mr. Leonard until he is apprehended. We have not rested. We will not rest. We owe it to the victims of this horrible crime."

Dawsom also made a direct plea to Leonard in case he was watching.

"If he's out there watching today, I implore him, this has gone on long enough," he said. "We're going to apprehend him sooner or later. I just implore with him today to turn himself in. His family has gone through enough. The victims have been through enough. This case needs to be resolved today."

Dawsom emphasized that the search was not just in Alabama, with the FBI, U.S. Marshals and local law enforcement looking for him.

"It doesn't matter where he's at. If he's watching, I want him to realize that we'll find him and we'll bring him back," he said.

The house search was not the first time this week investigators have hit a dead end.

Earlier this week, Gabriel Thomas, 41, and Jeremy Thomas, 18, were arrested and charged with hindering prosecution in the search for Leonard.

Gabriel Thomas allegedly had contact with Leonard and then provided misleading information in the search, according to police. And Jeremy Thomas allegedly fled with Leonard the night of the shooting. Police would not comment on whether the two men are related.

"We also want to emphasize that if you call any of these law enforcement and give deliberate false information to send us in a direction away from capturing this suspect—we've already taken out two warrants and we'll take out as many as necessary," Murphy said.

Police are looking for the person who reported dropping off Leonard at the house in Montgomery. Authorities say they know who the man is, but would not release any more information about him or his possible involvement in the matter.

"We want to locate him, but let's not forget why we want to locate him," Dawsom said. "He's taken three kids from their families. It has nothing to do with Auburn University football players. It's three kids. They came to Auburn and they're not coming home."

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