Image: Police arrest a suspect in Opelika, Ala.
Todd J. Van Emst  /  AP
Police take a suspect into custody at Southern Union Community College in Opelika, Ala., on Wednesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/7/2011 4:16:24 AM ET 2011-04-07T08:16:24

Journalists covering a deadly shooting became part of the story when the man police say is the main suspect calmly walked up to them and told them he was the person authorities were after.

Thomas Franklin May, 34, was charged with capital murder and attempted murder and was being held without bond, Opelika Police Chief Tommy Mangham said.

He said Wednesday's parking lot shooting at a community college campus in eastern Alabama was related to a domestic problem and was preplanned.

One woman was killed and May's estranged wife and another woman were wounded, police said.

About three hours after the shooting, when city officers already had left campus, a man driving a white Jeep Liberty with the same tag number police had released as the suspect's pulled into the blood-splattered parking lot where the shootings happened and spoke the news media.

Todd van Emst was taking photos for The Associated Press on the Southern Union Community College campus when May came up to him and asked to use his cell phone.

Van Emst said May gestured and said he "did all this."

"I said, 'Are you the shooter? He said, 'Yes.'"

4-year-old injured
After members of the media called 911, police arrived within minutes, knocked the man to the ground and handcuffed him, van Emst said.

The shooting in Opelika, about 60 miles east of Montgomery, killed a 63-year-old woman, wounded two more women, ages 36 and 94, and injured a 4-year-old, who was hit with flying glass, likely from a minivan which had three windows shot out.

May's wife was inside the vehicle when the shooting happened, police said.

Student Quay Thomas said he heard nine shots on the campus, which was closed the rest of the day.

"It was terrifying," the 17-year-old Thomas said. "I wouldn’t think anything like this would happen at a college campus."

Police would not release the victims' names or conditions, but Mangham said one was a Southern Union student and that some of the victims were related.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday evening, Mangham said the shooting was "a very tragic event not only for the city of Opelika, for Southern Union, but also for the families," the Opelika-Auburn News reported.

"We want to offer condolences to the family. Something like this is not easy. We all have families. You can imagine how it would affect you," he told the newspaper. "Our prayers and condolences do go out to the family. And we're going to work with the families any way we can and keep them informed and prosecute it to its fullest so they can have a conclusion to this."

Police also would not give a more detailed description of the shooting, but stressed that the campus of about 5,000 students was not targeted.

Police also did not release a precise motive. "We really don't know what's in a person's mind when they do something like this," Mangham said.

'Temper issues'
Warren Tidwell, who manages a downtown Opelika tire store, told the Opelika-Auburn News that May "had a nervous edge like he was going to explode at any minute. He definitely had temper issues."

Tidwell recalled one day when May was in the store when an Auburn University football player who spoke colloquially in an interview on television.

"He (May) went into a profanity-laced tirade in front of several customers, some of which were children," Tidwell said. "And moments after he went into the tirade, it was like he went right back to normal."

Court records show Bethany L. May filed a request seeking protection from abuse against Thomas May on Friday, but online records don't provide details.

A judge in Lee County issued a temporary order Monday and scheduled a hearing for May 11. Records don't indicate whether Thomas May had received copies of the documents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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