Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum talks with residents of Evans Hall Sunday afternoon after a Saturday night shooting inside the dormitory claimed the life of a student. (Clarion-Ledger)
STARKVILLE, Miss. (ClarionLedger) -- Mississippi State University police have leads on three suspects in the slaying of a Madison transfer student, in what is believed to be the first on-campus shooting death in the school's history.
A "person of interest" identified by investigators in the fatal shooting of John Sanderson is believed to be one of the three suspects. He may have requested a ride to Jackson from students on campus Saturday night.
RELATED | Jackson State Univ. student from Atlanta killed after pool party
The suspects are not believed to be MSU students, university spokeswoman Maridith Geuder said.
Sanderson, 21, had transferred from Holmes Community College. He was shot multiple times "right outside" a dorm room on the first floor of Evans Hall, said Bill Kibler, vice president of student affairs.
Sanderson was pronounced dead at Oktibbeha County Hospital Regional Medical Center at 11:03 p.m., more than 40 minutes after his arrival at the hospital.
Investigators believe the shooting was isolated.
"This is the first time in our school's history that such a tragic incident has occurred, involving a student being shot on campus," MSU president Mark Keenum said Sunday morning. "Our campus is known as a safe place, and I want to assure students, parents, faculty and staff that it continues to be safe."
The shooting occurred shortly before 10 p.m. on Saturday. Footage from security cameras located at the entrances of Evans Hall, an all-male dormitory, also was obtained and was being used to help identify the suspects.
"There were witnesses to this incident," Kibler said. "There were those who were there who knew what was taking place."
MSU officials would not release specific details, including a potential motive and whether Sanderson knew the suspects.
Officials believe the suspects fled Starkville immediately after the shooting. They were last seen in a late-model blue Crown Victoria.
No footage or photos of the suspects have been released.
A 911 call was received at 9:54 p.m. from Evans Hall, where campus police responded at 9:55 p.m. An ambulance was dispatched at 9:56 p.m.
Staff members at the residence hall were unable to determine whether Sanderson had been shot or stabbed until police reached the scene. A gun was found on campus early Sunday morning, but Kibler would not provide the location of its discovery.
Twenty-four students living in rooms adjacent to the crime scene were relocated to other residence halls on campus. Residents were allowed to go inside Evans Hall early Sunday as crews cleaned the scene. Campus police manned each entrance to the dormitory.
The scene Saturday night, however, was much different.
"Everything was kind of hectic," said senior Templeton Hardy, a football player and resident at Evans Hall. "They wouldn't let people in. It was a bit of a surprise. You never would think something like this would happen on campus, especially in a dorm."
Each residence hall on campus requires three clearances to reach a dormitory room, Kibler said. An access card provides entrance to the facility before clearance is provided to particular building wings and individual rooms.
Visitors, however, can be escorted into any dormitory by other students who live in the facility.
Evans Hall is a four-floor facility on the northwest edge of campus. It houses mostly freshmen and some upperclassmen. The dormitory is described as a suite-style arrangement, with rooms facing out toward a courtyard. The building can house up to 288 students.
Some students expressed concern about their security following the shooting.
"I don't think it's really safe any more," Hardy said. "If something like that can happen, anything can happen."
MSU first alerted its estimated 20,424 students of a stabbing or shooting through its Maroon Alert system at 10:27 p.m. Saturday. The emergency alerts are sent via text message and also are displayed on the school's website.
Sanderson's family was notified at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday. His name was released to the public shortly after 10 a.m.
The Starkville Police Department, Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol are assisting campus police in the investigation.