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Police say Auburn killing suspect was at home before officers arrived for tense search
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) ' Working off two solid tips, police thought they had cornered the man accused of killing three people during a party near Auburn University. They swarmed a home with tear gas, spy gear and assault rifles, but after a tense, nine-hour search, they discovered Desmonte Leonard had fled by the time they arrived.
Investigators continued Tuesday to search for Leonard and a man they said dropped him off at the suburban Montgomery home and then called U.S. marshals. It was that tip, and another 911 call from a woman who said she walked in from work to find the alleged gunman on her sofa, that led authorities to the neighborhood. At one point, they believed they heard movement and coughing in the attic, but their search turned up nothing.
Two men already have been charged with misleading authorities during their search for Leonard, and Police Chief Kevin Murphy said the man who ferried Leonard to the home could be arrested on similar charges.
"We did everything right," said Murphy. "Obviously we didn't take Mr. Leonard into custody yet. But we will."
Leonard, 22, is charged with three counts of capital murder in a shooting Saturday night after a fight over a woman. He is accused of wounding three others. The dead included two former Auburn football players, and a current player was among the injured.
"I've got a team of 120-some-odd players right now that are really just trying to navigate what is a lot of questions that aren't answered," Auburn football coach Gene Chizik said. "We're trying to do that as a coaching staff and I think the entire Auburn community is trying to do the same thing."
With calls about Leonard's whereabouts in the house going to both federal marshals and local police, authorities had to coordinate their actions before swooping in.
"There is some 15 to 20 minutes between the calling and us getting to the front door," said Mayor Todd Strange. "When I say 'us,' U.S. marshals, any of those assets."
Leonard had a connection to the house through someone other than the owner, said the city's public safety director, Chris Murphy. He declined to elaborate. The woman is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson 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 said Montgomery authorities received credible tips that Leonard was inside the house.
"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.
The search that began in the Montgomery neighborhood during afternoon rush hour Monday ended early Tuesday.
Believing Leonard was hiding in the attic, officers fired tear gas into the rafters and poked through insulation. Investigators said thermal imaging and other technology showed a person was in the attic area and they had heard coughing and movement.
But after midnight, they acknowledged they hadn't heard those noises for several hours. Officials said officers found nothing in the attic ' not even an animal that might have fooled detection devices.
After police left, 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. Officials promised to repay the house's owner for the damage.
AP writer Bob Johnson contributed to this report from Auburn.