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Auburn shooting suspect at large after investigators spend night combing Ala. house

Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson speaks during a news conference at Auburn City Council Chambers, discussing the manhunt following the fatal shooting Saturday night of three Auburn University students Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Auburn, Ala. After firing tear gas and searching with thermal imaging and tactical teams, authorities in Montgomery appeared to have left a home early Tuesday where they believed the man charged with fatally shooting three people near Auburn University might have been hiding. (AP Photo/Opelika-Auburn News, Vasha Hunt)

AUBURN, Ala. - Police vowed Tuesday to search again if they have to after a night of probing a house with tear gas and thermal sensors failed to find the suspect in a shooting near Auburn University that killed three people.

Tactical teams left empty handed early Tuesday after descending on the house the night before in search of Desmonte Leonard. He is charged with three counts of capital murder in a shooting Saturday night during a pool party. He's also accused of wounding three others. The dead included two former Auburn football players.

Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson said Leonard remained on the loose and vowed that authorities "will not rest" until he is custody. He said the reward for Leonard's capture had been bumped up to $30,000 and that state and federal authorities will continue their search.

Dawson addressed reports that police raided the wrong house Monday. He said that was not the case and said Montgomery authorities received credible tips that Leonard was inside.

"We will do it again if we have to," Dawson said. "We will respond in the same way."

Dawson said he has spoken with Leonard's mother, who has not heard from her son since the shootings. He said she has left messages for her son, asking him to turn himself in to police.

Law enforcement swarmed a Montgomery house Monday afternoon and spent hours searching before clearing the scene early Tuesday.

There was no one at house late Tuesday morning. Through the windows, at least two holes were visible in the ceiling and the floor was littered with pieces of drywall and insulation. Scraps of insulation also littered the walkway outside the house.

Martha Earnhardt, spokeswoman for Montgomery's Public Safety Department, said authorities went to the home after getting two reports from people who said Leonard was there. One of those calls was from someone who told authorities they had dropped Leonard off there.

"Then a 911 call was made indicating Mr. Leonard was in that residence," she said.

But with the "inch-by-inch" search of the house having failed to find Leonard, Earnhardt said authorities are now investigating the reports themselves.

She said it was possible that charges could be filed against anyone who knowingly gave investigators false information.

Authorities scoured the attic and air conditioning ducts and drilled holes through pieces of the house. They vowed to repay the house's owner or rebuild the structure.

Investigators said thermal imaging and other technology showed a person was in the attic area of the house and that they'd heard coughing and movement. But after midnight, they acknowledged that they hadn't heard those noises for several hours.

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.

The three killed in the weekend shooting included former Auburn 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 showed police had arrested Leonard on two previous charges involving guns, once for carrying a pistol without a license and once on a charge of assault. That case was dropped after the victim said Leonard was 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. The swimming pool at the apartment complex frequently is the site of parties.


Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report..

News from © The Associated Press, 2012
The Associated Press

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