UVA community grieves the loss of three shooting victims
Candles and flashlights lit up the night as students gathered on the South Lawn of the University of Virginia on Tuesday. They were mourning the loss of their classmates — Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler — following the Sunday shooting.
The event was framed as an informal vigil for students to honor the three UVA football players who were killed, and to give families and friends appropriate time to grieve before a formal gathering.
Students silently sat on the grass. Though thousands of individuals were present, the community appeared to be one body.
Banners flew from houses around grounds displaying messages like “UVA Strong” and “Love for Devin, Lavel, D’Sean.”
“This transcends football,” UVA football coach Tony Elliott said during a Tuesday press conference.
Athletics Director Carla Williams expressed gratitude for the support shown from university, Charlottesville and Virginia communities.
“I’m ready for someone to pinch me and wake me up, and say this didn’t happen,” Elliott said, fighting back tears.
Elliott shared that the first meeting with the players was tough, but Tuesday was better.
“The guys are on the road to healing,” and the approach is to keep them together as much as possible.
Though Williams and Elliott were unable to provide information about the status of the individuals in the hospital, the family of one of the injured students reported that he has been taken off a ventilator and is doing well.
Family friends of Davis, Perry and Chandler created fundraising opportunities for people who want to support them.
“Earning his role on the team was a super important moment in his life. He was the most unique and talented person that I've had the privilege to call my friend,” Matteo Uccelli’s GoFundMe page for Perry read.
Elliott shared stories about the players at the Tuesday press conference.
“Not many people outside of our program knew how special he was,” Elliott said about Perry. “When you look at him, you might not know that he listens to classical music and draws and shapes pots with clay,” but he did.
UVA alum and Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Charles Snowden wrote about Perry in an Instagram post, calling him “the closest thing to a lil brother I’ve ever had.”
“I really did try to pass down everything I’d learned because I knew he could be much better than I ever could,” Snowden wrote.
Davis was to be a uniquely happy person. His father, Thaddeus, shared that his son could “light up a room just with a smile.”
“He was a rising star (both on and off the field) and the world was seeing what we all had known for a long time, that he was a talented one of a kind kid,” Heather Mitchell wrote about Davis. “Lavel set the standard for what it’s supposed to look like to work.”
Elliott shared that “Devin was the life of the party,” who “found a way to make the monotonous fun.”
Jack Hamilton, an American studies and media studies professor, taught Chandler and Davis, and shared stories on Twitter about his students. He described Chandler as “an unbelievably nice person, always a huge smile, really gregarious and funny. One of those people who’s just impossible not to like.”
“It is so sad and enraging that he is gone,” Hamilton wrote.
Communities across the university have expressed their sorrow in various ways, but are processing the shooting together.
For Elliott and the football team, the road ahead involves celebrating the legacy that Davis, Perry and Chandler helped create.
“Everyone is going to respond differently to this situation, but … [w]e realize that we need each other,” Elliott said.
UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences made space in Old Cabell Hall's auditorium, where community members were invited to speak or to sit in silent reflection. Grief counselors sat near the doors, ready to talk with anyone who sought additional support.
Faith communities have held services, including prayer vigils at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Club Running at UVA is planning a three-mile memorial run Thursday for community members to commemorate the classmates they’ve lost. The loop will start and end at Scott Stadium, where the UVA football team plays. Participants are encouraged to wear blue and orange — the school’s colors.
We have lost “three beautiful young human beings who had unbelievable futures ahead of them,” Elliott said at the press conference.
Stars glimmered in the sky above students as they held lights in the air on Monday. The community will go on remembering and celebrating the lives and legacies of Davis, Perry and Chandler.
Kristin O'Donoghue is a student at the University of Virginia and writes for C-VILLE Weekly, Charlottesville’s alternative weekly.