Deadly NAU shooting in Flagstaff stems from fraternity party dispute
by Dennis Wagner, Scott Craven and Anne Ryman
October 9, 2015NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
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1 student killed and three others in serious condition; suspect Steven Jones, 18, held on $2 million bond....Braedon Day (from left), Christopher Huston and Michael Zowada pray during a vigil outside of the Northern Arizona University student union, Flagstaff, Ariz., on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015.
(Photo: Mark Henle / The Republic)Daniel Drum prays during a vigil held for the victims of Friday's shooting at Northern Arizona University, Oct. 9, 2015, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Mark Henle/The RepublicThalia Espana prays during a vigil held for the victims of Friday's shooting at Northern Arizona University, Oct. 9, 2015, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Mark Henle/The RepublicMelodie Prevost signs a card for the victims of Friday's shooting at Northern Arizona University, Oct. 9, 2015 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Mark Henle/The RepublicBrittany Kurtz prays during a vigil for the victims of a shooting on Northern Arizona University's campus, Oct. 9, 2015 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Mark Henle/The Republic
For the second time in eight days, the sound of gunshots rang through a college campus, leaving a trail of dead and wounded.
This time, it occurred in the middle of the night, close to home at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Before the day was over, there would be a second campus shooting -- this one in Houston; a bogus report of an active shooter at a technical college in Louisville, KY.; and a call to action as President Barack Obama addressed the families of the victims of last week's campus shooting in Oregon and said it was time for the nation to address the epidemic of gun violence.
The Flagstaff shooting early Friday rocked the community of 68,000. Unlike the Oregon shooting, this one erupted after a fraternity party dispute. Police say the suspect, who has posted dozens of photos of himself posing with guns on social media, went to his vehicle to get a weapon, returned and opened fire, killing one and wounding three. He was taken into custody without incident.
Hours later in Houston, a Texas Southern University freshman was fatally shot at a student housing complex. Police there say they had two suspects in custody and were seeking a third. All were students at the school.
In Flagstaff, NAU administrators identified the student who was killed as Colin Brough. The wounded students were identified as Nicholas Prato, Kyle Zientek and Nocholas Piring, all of whom were said to be in serious condition at a Flagstaff hospital Friday night.
Police said the shootings came on the heels of what NAU Police Chief Greg Fowler described as a confrontation between "student groups" that resulted in 18-year-old freshman Steven Jones retrieving a gun and firing multiple shots that struck four people at about 1:20 a.m.
"There's a guy outside and he's shooting people," a student looking upon the scene from a dorm window hurriedly told a 911 dispatcher. "We're at Mountain View. He has a gun. He shot people, and he's yelling right now."
Mountain View Hall houses a number of fraternities and sororities on campus.
Jones appeared in court Friday afternoon via a video feed from a Coconino County jail. He was wearing a dark, button-down shirt. He blinked often and occasionally grimaced, nodding as Judge Paul Christian questioned him.
Jones bowed his head as the charges were read against him: one count of first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault.
He gave his name and his family's address in Glendale, saying he had lived there his entire life. He told the judge that he understood the charges against him and his rights. He also said that he had not been carrying a full-time schedule as an NAU student.
Burges McCowan, a Valley private attorney hired to defend Jones, asked that he be released into the custody of his parents, arguing that he was a lifelong resident and had no serious criminal history.
"He has no other place to go," McCowan said. "He is not a flight risk."Steven Jones is accused of shooting four NAU students, killing one. (Photo: Northern Arizona University)
Deputy Coconino County Attorney Ammon Barker answered that first-degree murder is capital offense and is not bailable when there is strong evidence against a suspect.
Barker said the incident began as a confrontation between fraternity members, first verbal and then physical. It started on one side of the street and traveled across the road.
"The defendant then ran to his car, retrieved his gun and then went back to the fight," Barker said. "I just want to be clear, there is no indication of self-defense. The defendant shot four unarmed individuals, killing one of them."
He said Jones' weapon was a .40-caliber handgun.
He said Brough was shot twice. Witnesses identified Jones as the shooter, Barker said, and Jones admitted it to the police.
Victims advocate Erica Padrick quoted Brough's father, Douglas, as saying, "He killed my son. He (Jones) shouldn't be allowed to go anywhere. He needs to be in custody."
The advocate also quoted a witness as saying, "He killed my best friend and I watched him die in front of me."
Even as Jones was preparing to make his court appearance, talk on the campus centered on what had happened at Mountain View Hall. As students gathered for breakfast and prepared for another school day -- classes were not canceled -- nothing was the same. The shooting may well echo for weeks, if not months, among students of Arizona's smallest, most intimate state university.
Brenna Chambers, an 18-year-old freshman from Gilbert, joined her friend Lexi Webber for breakfast at the Student Union on a Friday morning that was anything but typical.
"It just feels wrong for you to go on with your day," Chambers said.
Webber, who was studying late into the night when she heard a rapid series of pops, felt the same way.
"No one can really focus," she said. "You're not really sure what you should be doing."
Several thousand students, faculty and staff filled the North Quad of the Flagstaff campus Friday night, many dressed in black, hugging each other and crying. They clutched candles and formed a tight semicircle around a lighted podium. Large poster-size pictures of Colin Brough, the student who died, flanked either side of the podium.
Chris Schmit, the president of the Delta Chi chapter at NAU, thanked everyone, on behalf of the fraternity, for showing up.
"Colin Brough, I know you are watching right now. I want you to know we will always love you. We will always miss you. We will never forget you. Please rest in peace my brother," he said.
NAU Student Body President Alexandria Buchta told her fellow students she was at a loss for words and couldn't fathom the pain the families were going through.
"There's nothing that can be said that can remedy the heartbreak," she said, her voice breaking at times.
NAU Dean of Students Cynthia Anderson told the students they were bright, shining examples of all that was good in the world. She asked them to light candles for the victims or use the lights on their cellphones.
"Even when the dark comes, it can't overcome the light of you," she told them.
The candles were first lit around the perimeter of the crowd and then the lights spread to the center.
At the end, they raised their candles high for several minutes. Sobs filled the air.
The crowd parted, and the Delta Chi members returned to their house.
Jose Trujillo, a lacrosse coach at Castle View High School in Castle Rock, Colo., said Brough was an inspirational student and player.
"A lot of the younger kids looked up to him, he was a real leader," Trujillo said. "I didn't get the chance to coach him personally, but I saw how well everyone respected him. He was a real happy-go-lucky kid. He was such a positive influence. It's just a shock what happened."
A family assistance center was set up on campus and school administrators were encouraging parents to call 928-523-0007 for information. Counseling services at the school will be available Saturday, and school officials said the Office of Student Life and Health and Learning Center would also be open.
Webber was working on a paper at her dorm near the central part of campus when she heard what sounded like shots.
"Is that gunshots?" the 17-year-old recalled thinking. "No, of course, it wouldn't be gunshots."
But then people began text messaging and tweeting about a shooting.
Webber sent a text message to her parents, who live in Gilbert, at 1:56 a.m. to reassure them.
"Hey I'm pretty sure there was just a shooting on campus. But I'm OK and safe" it said.
Safe, but not the same.
NAU President Rita Cheng called the shootings an "isolated and unprecedented incident" and assured students that the campus was safe. Cheng said classes would continue as normal Friday but that "this is not going to be a normal day at NAU."
"Our hearts are heavy," she said.
Early Friday, there were evidence markers in the street and on the sidewalks surrounding the fraternity-and-sorority residence compound, a collection of 4-story brownstone buildings bearing Greek lettering in the windows.
The entire two-block area was ringed by police tape. As police investigators worked out of a command post, students, bleary-eyed, were wondering what had happened.
Andrew Walsh, 19, a sophomore who lives across the street from the crime scene, said he was awakened by gunfire. He said he heard two groups of gunshots.
"I looked out the window and I heard someone yelling, 'Where's Colin? Where's Colin, dude?' Someone else yelled, 'I just got shot in the neck ... call 911,' " Walsh said. "It was really intense and then the cops arrived minutes later."
Arizona Board of Regents policy dictates firearms and other weapons are prohibited on campus unless they are being transported or stored in a locked vehicle and are not visible. Each university may require vehicles transporting firearms to be parked in specific areas.