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Police: USF football player charged with shooting at exterior of residence hall

TAMPA — A University of South Florida football player was arrested Sunday after campus police said he shot at the exterior of the student dormitory where he lives earlier that morning.

Offensive lineman Benjamin Knox, 21, was charged with possessing or discharging a firearm on campus and shooting into an occupied dwelling, according to USF police.

"Any time you hear of a person with a gun on campus or some type of discharge of a weapon, you automatically go to the worst and hope for the best," said USF police Assistant Chief Chris Daniel. "In this situation, we were fortunate that it seemed like a random act."

Knox's mother, Sherri Hughes, said she was shocked when head coach Willie Taggart called her about the incident.

"He's a good student. He's not raised like that," she said. "That's not my son."

Early Sunday morning, at about 4 a.m., a campus police officer heard gunshots on the north-central part of campus, near the Marshall Student Center. A student also called in a report of gunshots, followed by the sound of screeching tires.

Officers didn't find anyone at the parking garage, but when they searched it floor by floor, they came across a parked vehicle that held an open gun case and a box of .45-caliber ammunition "within plain sight."

They also found spent shell casings next to the car "where it appeared that several random shots were fired from a handgun," a USF police news release said.

"There's nothing to indicate that there was a specific person or group intended as the target," Daniel said.

The shots took chunks out of the exterior of Holly D residence hall, where Daniel said Knox lives.

"It doesn't look like they were well-placed shots," Daniel said. "It looks like random squeezing of the trigger, and where they went, they went."

Police traced the car to Knox, its owner. They approached him in his dorm room and recovered the .45-caliber handgun they said was used in the shooting. They took Knox into custody and transported him to the Hillsborough County jail for processing.

"Unfortunately, he's not really wanting to talk to us," Daniel said.

While the incident didn't put anyone in immediate danger, Daniel said it was alarming all the same.

"The fact that somebody on campus has a gun and could have pulled it out in a moment of anger," he said, "makes you wonder what the potential could have been in a different location."

Knox was immediately suspended from all team activities, according to a statement Sunday afternoon from the USF athletic department.

"We are in the process of gathering more information on the matter and are working with the proper authorities," it read. "This type of behavior is not consistent with the values of our institution and will not be tolerated."

Knox played football for DeLand High School and was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com. Last year was a redshirt season for Knox, meaning he attended classes and practiced with the team but did not compete in games.

He had played in all five games this season, including Saturday's victory over Syracuse University.

Daniel said the USF police department will reinforce its message of keeping the campus safe.

"In this case, someone did just what we hoped they would do — place a phone call to us — which allows us to make a rapid response," he said. "This is the best possible outcome we could have derived from a very bad situation."

Times staff writer Joey Knight and staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321.

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