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The shooting of the suspect’s video adds to questions about the university’s investigation

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More than a year before he was charged with shooting and killing three other University of Virginia students, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. appeared in a music video holding a gun and rapping about the murder and his own mental disorders.

The video, posted to YouTube on August 15, 2021, features Mr. Jones, another rapper and others dancing and pointing guns at the camera, and it adds to questions surrounding the university’s investigation into Mr. Jones in the months leading up to the shooting. . He had left a trail of warning signs, including a concealed weapon violation and a felony charge that was pleaded to a misdemeanor.

While the university began investigating Mr Jones in September after another student reported he mentioned having a gun, officials did not question him because he had refused to cooperate, they said. Nor did anyone from the university search his room, which would have revealed a cache of weapons and ammunition.

Mr Jones, 23, describes in the video several ways he would kill people, including shooting people at a party and killing another person “in their sleep”. Mr Jones mentions having mental issues and says he frequently carries a gun, themes that echo those in songs released on music streaming service SoundCloud under his rap moniker as early as 2018.

It’s unclear if the weapons were real or props, or if Mr. Jones wrote the lyrics he rapped over two verses of the video. It is also unclear whether the lyrics were specific threats or violent nods to the explicit lyrics and violent imagery commonly found in popular music. But the presence of the guns in the video raises questions about whether the university knew, or should have known, of Mr Jones’ online activity while investigating him.

Another song rapper, who said on Facebook that he had been in contact with Mr Jones in police custody, declined to comment immediately when contacted by The New York Times and did not respond to follow-up calls. The videographer who filmed the music video also did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Asked if the University of Virginia was aware of the video clip, Brian Coy, a spokesperson, said the university ‘will not comment on such matters’ while Virginia State Police investigate. felony over the shooting and the state attorney general’s office. conducts an external review, at the request of the university.

Mr Jones had a semi-automatic rifle, pistol, ammunition and a device designed to increase the rate of fire of a weapon in his dorm on campus, according to an inventory of police search warrants obtained by The Daily Progress, a local newspaper. A Virginia State Police special agent executed the search warrant on Nov. 14, less than 12 hours after the shooting, according to The Daily Progress.

After the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville in 2017, the University of Virginia entered into a contract with a company, Social Sentinel, which tracks social media to detect threatening messages and then provides the information to campus police. , according to The Daily Progress.

JP Guilbault, chief executive of Social Sentinel’s parent company, Navigate360, said the company hasn’t had a contract with the University of Virginia for several years. Guilbault said the software worked by searching for certain keywords, as well as locations in public posts on social media and a school’s network, but only if the threat was specific.

“If he had said, ‘I’m going to kill students at the University of Virginia,’ it would have been picked up,” Mr. Guilbault said. As for the university, Mr. Guilbault said: “I assume they still use and have applicable processes for evaluating social channels.”

On September 1, University Police received a presentation from a Meta representative, titled “Working with Meta to Improve Your Investigations.” A Meta spokeswoman said the presentation focused on the legal parameters the company works within when handling law enforcement requests, such as the requirements for obtaining subpoenas.

Mr. Coy said that on October 26, after Mr. Jones “repeatedly refused to cooperate” with the university’s investigation, a student affairs representative emailed Mr. Jones the warning that his failure to report the concealed weapon conviction would be dismissed. to the University Judiciary Committee, the student-run body that manages discipline on campus. But, for reasons that remain obscure, this referral was never made.

Mr Jones was reportedly not allowed to have firearms on campus, and ammunition is explicitly prohibited in student accommodation, according to policies listed on the university’s website. But several attorneys said those policies did not give authorities explicit permission to search student rooms for contraband and that a search warrant would most likely be required.

“A student dorm is like anyone else’s home, and it retains the same privacy rights as a landlord,” said Steven D. Benjamin, a prominent defense attorney in Virginia. “No entry may be made absent urgency, consent or the execution of a search warrant.”

And he said it would have been difficult to get a warrant in that case. “If you put all of these items together,” Mr. Benjamin said, referring to another student’s remark about a gun, finding out about Mr. Jones’ past misdemeanor conviction and the video, ” I don’t see any judge issuing a search warrant.”

The Virginia Attorney General is bringing in a special counsel to look into the events leading up to the shooting. University officials asked that the review focus in part on “the university’s efforts prior to the tragedy to assess the potential threat that Mr Jones posed to our community”.

Numerous friends of Mr Jones spoke about him on Facebook in the days after the shooting, apparently in defense of his character. Some have pointed to a video interview Mr Jones gave while attending high school in Petersburg, where he was recognized as an outstanding student. In the video, Mr Jones said: “I’m here because I love school. I like the school environment. He added, “Don’t give up. When the going gets tough, when the going gets tough in class, never give up. Grind. Go all out.” In another video, he sang a popular gospel song in an auditorium after receiving awards.

“He was just someone you would want to have around you. Like, he was always walking around dancing and singing. He was just a happy person in high school,” said Devel Browder, who went to high school with Mr. Jones. She added: “Because from what we know, Chris, it’s not like him to do that.”

Mr Jones was charged with three counts of second degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and five counts of using a handgun in the commission of a crime. He did not enter a plea. The lawyer representing Mr Jones declined to comment.

D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler, all members of the college football team, were killed in the shooting on a bus that had just returned from a school trip to see a play in Washington. A fourth football player, Michael Hollins, was shot in the back and hospitalized; according to his father, he should make a full recovery. Another student, Marlee Morgan, was also injured in the attack. Mr. Jones was also on the trip.

Last week, Virginia called off its football team’s final game, ending its season.

Campbell Robertson and Stephanie Saul contributed to the reporting, and Kirsten Noyes contributed to the research.

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