CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The University of Virginia shooting suspect bought two guns this year after failing a background check in 2021 and attempting to buy a handgun when he was underage, according to the store that sold him the weapons.
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, purchased a Ruger AR-556 rifle and a Glock 45 9 mm pistol with an additional magazine from Dance’s Sporting Goods in Colonial Heights, Virginia, store owner Marlon Dance said in statement.
The rifle was purchased Feb. 19 and the pistol was bought July 8. “There was nothing noteworthy about these purchases,” the statement said.
Authorities have not disclosed the type of gun used in the shooting that left football players Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. dead and two other students wounded.
The weapon was turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “as evidence for processing,” Virginia State Police said.
Store wouldn't sell rifle to suspect months earlier
Jones was no stranger to Dance's Sporting Goods. On July 8, 2021, he tried to buy a Smith & Wesson M&P15-22, a .22-caliber rifle, but “failed the background check,” the statement said. He also tried to buy a handgun when he was younger than 21 on Dec. 31, 2018, according to the statement.
“Jones DID NOT receive either of the firearms he attempted to purchase and both attempted purchases were forwarded to the Virginia State Police for further action. We will continue to assist law enforcement as they attempt to make sense of this terrible tragedy and we pray for the victims of this tragedy,” the statement said.
There is "an active investigation into an attempted purchase of a firearm on July 8," Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said, adding the agency's Firearms Transaction Center denied Jones’ request based on a pending charge.
Geller did not disclose the charge, but NBC affiliate WWBT of Richmond reported it stemmed from a hit-and-run crash Jones was involved in Aug. 9, 2020, in Petersburg.
"The pending charge was reduced to a misdemeanor by the court in October 2021, thereby removing the prohibition against future purchases," Geller said.
A request to speak to the gun store owner Thursday about the statement was declined. Earlier attempts to reach Dance were unsuccessful.
“There is nothing surprising that, under the current state of the law, a person can be prohibited from gun ownership one day, and entitled to lawful possession on another,” said criminal defense attorney Steve Benjamin, a legal analyst for WWBT.
Jones was also allowed to purchase guns this year, despite having a concealed gun conviction on his record from 2021. Again, that was a misdemeanor, so even though this crime involved weapons, it would not have blocked him from buying guns.
“It doesn’t feel at all weird to someone who lives in Virginia,” Benjamin said Thursday. “This is a very gun-friendly state.”
More coverage of the deadly University of Virginia shooting
- UVa student charged in deaths of 3 football players shot one victim in his sleep, prosecutor says
- UVa knew of gun conviction against student before triple murder but never started discipline process
- University of Virginia shooting suspect had been eyed in previous campus gun and hazing probes
- Father of shooting suspect says son told him people were "picking on him," seemed "paranoid"
Prosecutor James Hingeley of the Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office spoke about Jones’ criminal history during the suspect's first appearance in court Wednesday.
Jones was arrested in February 2021 in Chesterfield County, Virginia, on the concealed weapons violation, he said. He was convicted in June 2021 and given a 12-month suspended sentence, Hingeley said.
When Jones was arrested in Chesterfield County, he had outstanding warrants on charges of hit-and-run with property damage and reckless driving in connection with the Petersburg crash, he said. He was given a 12-month suspended sentence on each of the charges in October 2021, Hingeley said.
On Tuesday, university officials admitted they learned of Jones’ conviction on the weapons charge around mid-September and did not start a disciplinary process against him.
But it was unclear whether that understanding would have been enough for the university to take timely, serious action against Jones before he allegedly opened fire on a bus around 10:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones and about two dozen classmates had just returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C., university spokesperson Brian Coy said.
The suspect fled, prompting a manhunt and a shelter-in-place order that lasted about 12 hours, officials said.
Henrico County police captured Jones just before 11 a.m. Monday in Richmond, about 75 miles southeast of the Charlottesville campus.
He is charged with three counts of second-degree murder, five counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and two counts of malicious wounding in connection, court records show.
In court Wednesday, Hingeley said Jones fatally shot Chandler while he slept. A witness reported that Jones was aiming at “certain people” and “not randomly shooting,” Hingeley said.
Attorney general agrees to independent probe
On Thursday, university President James E. Ryan and Rector Whittington W. Clement sent a letter to state Attorney General Jason S. Miyares asking he appoint “outside special counsel” to conduct an independent review of the university’s response to the shooting.
The letter noted university police have requested state police assume control of the criminal investigation.
“As that investigation proceeds, there are many valid questions about the shooting that have yet to be answered and are unlikely to be answered in the course of criminal proceedings,” the letter states.
“Accordingly, we write today to request that you exercise your authority under Virginia law to appoint outside special counsel with expertise in these matters to conduct an independent review of the University’s response to the shooting, as well as the efforts the University undertook in the period before the tragedy to assess the potential threat Mr. Jones posed to our community.”
The letter added: “Finally, we request that the special counsel review all relevant University policies and procedures and make recommendations if opportunities for improvement or needs for change are identified. We will cooperate fully with your office and the special counsel who conducts the review. We thank you again for your leadership and support in this difficult moment.”
Miyares’ office agreed to the independent investigation which will lead to a “public report,” according to a statement from his spokesperson Victoria LaCivita.
The office “will be conducting a review of the events that led to the tragic death of three university students last Sunday evening. Attorney General Jason Miyares will enlist special counsel to assist the Office in completing this important work,” the statement said. “A public report will be shared with students, families, the larger UVA community, and government officials at the appropriate time.”
Antonio Planas reported from Charlottesville and Marlene Lenthang and David K. Li from New York.