The man accused of opening fire Wednesday afternoon at Southern Union State Community College -- killing his mother-in-law and wounding his wife, her grandmother and his 4-year-old child -- had a protective order taken out on him by his wife two days before the fatal shooting, court records and authorities said.
Thomas Franklin May III, 34, was taken into custody without incident just before 8 p.m. EDT, about three hours after the shooting. He’s scheduled for a first appearance hearing before a Lee County judge at 2:30 p.m. CDT today.
May is accused of the capital murder of Brenda Marshall Watson, 62, and the attempted murders of Bethany Lynn May, 36, Maude Ethell Marshall, 93, and his 4-year-old child. May also is charged with shooting into an occupied vehicle.
“He returned to the parking lot of the Southern Union College,” Opelika Police Capt. Allan Elkins said Wednesday night. “He actually went there in front of some reporters and said ‘I’m the one everybody’s looking for.’”
Court records show that Bethany L. May filed for a court protection from abuse order against Thomas May with the Lee County court system on April 1. A temporary order was issued Monday, and a hearing on that protection order is scheduled for May 11.
The shooting happened just before 5 p.m. in the campus parking lot, 1701 Lafayette Parkway. When officers arrived, they found three gunshot victims and a fourth person cut by glass, Elkins said.
Watson had been struck in the upper torso, Elkins said. May's wife was shot in her right arm, and Marshall was struck once in her neck and once in the back and was flown to The Medical Center in Columbus.
Elkins did not have information about her condition Wednesday evening.
A 4-year-old girl also was cut by flying glass during the shooting, Elkins said.
The college posted a statement on its website saying the college’s nursing and paramedic faculty assisted the wounded immediately.
“We do not believe students are at risk,” the statement read, adding the campus would remain closed for the evening. “Southern Union expects to open tomorrow morning at our normal time. Counselors will be on-hand.”
By Wednesday evening, the college remained largely empty, save for a handful of television crews and a few people running on the track.
Athena Dowdell, 15, said she was in class at Opelika High School during the shooting. She said the school later went into lockdown while she was at track practice, and that coaches hurriedly ushered students back into the school as ambulances were racing to the college.
“It seemed unreal to me. I didn’t know what was happening,” she said. “I thought somebody was lying. I was scared because my dad is a student there, and we didn’t know who had been shot.”
Elliott Cook and Derek Ridley drove to the college track for their evening exercise but decided to leave the mostly deserted campus after they learned May was still on the loose. “I think I’m going to reconsider running today,” Cook said.