Sonny Wilson, Athens-Clarke County coroner, confirmed the killings, but did not immediately identify the victims.
Information about the shooting was disseminated through a campus-wide alert, which identified Prof. George Zinkhan as a shooting suspect. Zinkhan is a professor in the department of marketing and distribution at the Terry College of Business, according to the university Web site.
"George Zinkhan is a white male in his mid-50s with a goatee or beard. Current information is that he was last seen wearing a polo shirt, blue shorts, and a backpack. He was last thought to be in a red car in the area of Prince Avenue," the alert said.
Pete Konenkamp, a university spokesman, said the incident took place off the UGA campus and is being investigated by Athens-Clarke County police. He said campus police are assisting.
The news reverberated across Athens.
"The University community is shocked and saddened at this tragic event," University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams, said in a written statement. "Our first thoughts are for safety of the university community and for prompt apprehension of the person responsible. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who have been affected."
CNN affiliate WSB-TV said the shooting occurred behind the Taylor-Grady House, a National Historic Landmark on Prince Avenue.
Michael Castengera, who teaches at the university, told CNN his daughter text-messaged him about the killings and that she was being questioned by police as a witness. He said two of the victims were close friends of hers.
He said the group at the location were the Town and Gown Players, a community theater group, and that his daughter is on the board of the theater, where they were gathered for some sort of meeting.
The theater Web site said its present production, "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure," is canceled.