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UVA community gathers for panel on healing to mark one year after shooting

Community members listen to a conversation
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Community members listen during the Batten Hour: Beyond Boundaries — A Campus-Community-Nation Dialogue on Healing From Gun Violence on Monday, November 13, 2023 at Old Cabell Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia.

To honor the one-year anniversary of the shooting deaths of three University of Virginia football players, a discussion on how to heal from gun violence was held Monday on Grounds.

One of the guests was Happy Perry, the mother of D’Sean Perry, who was killed along with Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis Jr. Two other student-athletes were wounded in the shooting.

The panel, which included parents and young adults affected by gun violence, was asked about responding to people who don’t know what to say when faced with someone who has experienced such an enormous loss.

For Perry, hearing “I love you” goes a long way toward healing.

“Sometimes, people don't know what to say or how to say it. But those three words, they go a long way,” she continued. “For me, it is the love and support from everyone. I find my strength and knowing that I need to move forward and the love and the legacy of D’Sean. And we'll move on and we'll grow, and I’m going to be OK.”

Another speaker was Tracy Walls — who lost her eldest son, Edgar J. Utley, to gun violence at age 15. The career educator said this was the first time she’d spoken publicly since her son’s death in 2021.

Walls shows a tattoo
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Tracy Walls shows a tattoo she got in honor of her son, Edgar, on Nov. 13 in Charlottesville.

“This is an epidemic across the country, that's what I want you all to experience and really see that we have to be the change we want to see in the world,” Walls said. “We have to find joy and purpose in our pain to look ahead. Because my son would always remind me, ‘Mommy, you're so beautiful.’”

More than two decades ago, Kevin Parker survived the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. When asked by the panel moderator if, after all this time, people might think he’d be healed from the event, Parker said dealing with the pain of gun violence is like being in a tunnel.

“You don't get to go around it. You don't get to go below it, you don't get to go above it, you have to walk through it,” he said. “I think walking through the tunnel is really hard. But it's something that has to be done. And I think one of the things that I've learned over the last several years is — it's important to do something that's hard.”

Parker also said having gratitude is important for personal healing.

“When we express gratitude, our mind begins to evolve and our mind begins to look for what's good,” Parker said. “I know after Columbine, I had a chip on my shoulder for a while, and people would ask me to talk and I felt like I had nothing to say. Like, I'm not any smarter after being shot at. I'm not, I don't know anything.”

Parker carried around that chip for a long time and thought he had nothing to say — until he started speaking out on a regular basis.

After the discussion, the audience joined roughly 200 students and faculty on the lawn outside the UVA Chapel for a moment of silence and the chiming of the church bells in honor of the students.

Student-athlete Ashley Le said the last year has been hard, but Monday’s event was about the community.

Sitting with her teammates, Ashley Le wore a white sweatshirt showing Chandler, Davis Jr. and Perry in uniform with halos over their heads: “And it’s just a beautiful day to celebrate those beautiful souls.”

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.