Thomas Franklin May, 34, was charged with capital murder and attempted murder and was being held without bond, Opelika Police Chief Tommy Mangham said. He said Wednesday's parking lot shooting, in which one woman died and May's estranged wife and another woman were wounded, was related to a domestic problem and was preplanned.
Todd van Emst was taking photos for The Associated Press on the Southern Union Community College campus when May came up to him and asked to use his cell phone.
Van Emst said May gestured and said he "did all this."
"I said, 'Are you the shooter? He said, 'Yes."'
After members of the media called 911, police arrived within minutes, knocked the man to the ground and handcuffed him, van Emst said.
The shooting in Opelika, about 60 miles east of Montgomery, killed a 63-year-old woman, wounded two more women, ages 36 and 94, and injured a 4-year-old, who was hit with flying glass, likely from a minivan which had three windows shot out. May's wife was inside the vehicle when the shooting happened, police said.
Student Quay Thomas said he heard nine shots on the campus, which was closed the rest of the day.
"It was terrifying," the 17-year-old Thomas said.
Police would not release the victims' names or conditions, but Mangham said one was a Southern Union student and that some of the victims were related. Police also would not give a more detailed description of the shooting, but stressed that the campus of about 5,000 students was not targeted.
Police also did not release a motive.
"We really don't know what's in a person's mind when they do something like this," Mangham said.
Court records show Bethany L. May filed a request seeking protection from abuse against Thomas May on Friday, but online records don't provide details. A judge in Lee County issued a temporary order Monday and scheduled a hearing for May 11. Records don't indicate whether Thomas May had received copies of the documents.
Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to this report.