MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Authorities searching for a man charged with fatally shooting three people Saturday near Auburn University swarmed a house Monday where they believed he was hiding, firing tear gas and sending a tactical team on cautious forays inside.
The tactical team had searched the lower portions of the house and was making deliberate moves into the attic where suspect Desmonte Leonard was thought to be, said Montgomery public safety director Chris Murphy.
He declined to give a timetable for them to bring someone out.
“We are having to slowly put our people up there and do an inch-by-inch search,’’ he said late Monday after police surrounded the house.
Police had hoped to flush out the person with tear gas and verbal commands, but sent in the tactical team after getting no response. They used thermal imaging and other technology to narrow down what part of the attic he was in. The attic is cramped, complicating investigators’ efforts.
“This is a pretty driven person. He’s got nothing to lose,’’ Murphy said. “You cannot rush it.’’
Dozens of police cruisers, trucks, fire vehicles and vans surrounded the house, located in a middle-class area a few miles from Alabama’s Capitol.
Officers said they assumed Leonard would be armed.
He was charged with three counts of capital murder in the shooting Saturday night during a pool party at University Heights apartments. He is also accused of wounding three others.
The dead included two former Auburn football players: Edward Christian, who had to quit the team because of a lingering back injury; and Ladarious Phillips, who was transferring from Auburn to Jacksonville State University to play football.
The other person killed was Demario Pitts, 20.
Of the three people who were wounded, current Auburn football player Eric Mack and Xavier Moss were both treated and released from a hospital. The third, John Robertson, remained in critical condition after being shot in the head.
Court records show Montgomery police arrested Leonard in 2008 on a charge of carrying a pistol without a license, after stopping a suspected stolen vehicle and finding him inside.
Leonard was charged in 2009 with assault after a man was shot in the groin, but prosecutors dropped the case after the victim told authorities Leonard wasn’t the shooter.
Auburn police said the shootings did not appear to have anything to do with some of the victims being former or current players on the football team, which won the national championship in 2010.