A year after the tragic shooting that resulted in the deaths of three University students and football team members, the University community continues to memorialize and reflect on the lives of Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry. Support networks are looking to finalize funding allocations to those most affected by the tragedy and student leaders have provided gathering spaces and memorial events to offer support on this anniversary.
The three football team members died Nov. 13, 2022 while returning from a field trip in Washington, D.C. Two other students, graduate student Mike Hollins and third-year Commerce student Marlee Morgan, were also injured.
The shooting resulted in a nearly 12-hour shelter in place order by the University and manhunt of suspect Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., who has since been arrested and charged with three counts of second degree murder and three counts of possession of a handgun in the commission of a felony.
The University community has held reflective and memorializing events for Davis Jr., Chandler and Perry over the past year, including awarding posthumous degrees to the three students, planting a memorial tree at Arts Grounds and painting a memorial message on Beta bridge, which has become the longest standing single message to stay on the bridge.
Tichara Robertson, Student Council president and fourth-year College student, said that she thought the University community has provided good opportunities for gathering and reflection in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“I really thought that the ways in which the University community…especially student leaders, coming together to create specific community spaces and events for Devin, D’Sean and Lavel was pretty well done,” Robertson said. “[We’re] all in the midst of grieving together.”
Following the shooting, University President Jim Ryan and Rector of the Board of Visitors Whitt Clement requested an external review of what led to the tragedy, as well as an evaluation of the University’s response to it. The University received a preliminary review in late October, but it has not yet been released to the public, despite being scheduled to by early November.
In the immediate aftermath, the U.Va. Alumni Association also established the U.Va. Strong Fund, which provides financial support to those grappling with the tragedy. After interacting closely with those suffering in the aftermath of tragedy, Lily West, president and CEO of the U.Va. Alumni Association, said it’s important to recognize peoples’ ongoing needs.
“Grief and recovery move at different speeds for different people,” West said. “And so we just have to keep showing up and taking care of each other…because people still have real needs. And it doesn't matter that it's been a year — there may be a lifetime of need that results from a tragedy like this one.”
James Edwards, third-year council president and third-year Nursing student, said he wanted to provide an opportunity for community gathering and memorial on the anniversary of the tragedy. He explained that himself and other members of L2K, a leadership program organized by the Office of the Dean of Students that invites student leaders to foster their leadership skills and create connections across the University, noticed a need for student support as the anniversary approached.
“Student leaders noticed people in their organizations and in general needed a way to remember lives lost,” Edwards said. “Members of the football team also saw this as a great opportunity to remember the lives of their teammates.”
With the help of the football team, Edwards planned a reflective event Monday at the South Lawn from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. to remember the lives of Davis Jr., Chandler and Perry. Between these hours, students are invited to the South Lawn to sign a U.Va. Strong banner, leave sticky notes with supportive messages and gather to reflect as a community. According to Edwards, this reflective event will mirror the informal vigil held on South Lawn last year, where students silently gathered with candles to remember their lost classmates.
Edwards said that he is leaning on his fellow student leaders and the football team in particular to help create this gathering space for students. Edwards collaborated with the team to plan a moment of silence at 7 p.m., as well as speeches and remarks from teammates, coaches and close friends of Davis Jr., Chandler and Perry.
A member of the football team also made a graphic that will be circulated to the community this weekend on social media.
Edwards says he has no concrete plans for what will be done with the banner after the event. While he said he hopes that it can be hung somewhere, he ultimately will leave the decision up to the football team.
Robertson also shared Student Council’s plan to memorialize the lives of Davis Jr., Chandler and Perry by declaring a day of peace, love and joy every Friday before the first home football game of the season in their honor. Robertson explained that Student Council will do this during its next General Body meeting Nov. 14 through a proclamation, a rarely used action that allows Student Council to commemorate special events or holidays. According to Robertson, the title for the day of peace, love and joy is modeled after the words of Davis Jr., Chandler and Perry’s classmates when describing them during their memorial service.
“It is my hope and our hope…that on this day, students can continue to remember them, but also embrace the characteristics that they had when they were here at the University,” Robertson said. “[The day will] allow the U.Va. community to…celebrate and embrace those values that are key to keeping the community together and spreading peace, love and joy.”
As the University community has worked to commemorate the lives lost during the tragedy, there has also been an increasing need for mental health resources and specifically an increase in students using Timely Care — a program through Student Health and Wellness which gives student on-demand access to mental health professionals for 12 free sessions. Robertson said she hopes to better integrate other forms of support to offer additional sessions moving forward.
“I know as we're approaching [Nov. 13], a lot of students will be looking for mental health support,” Robertson said.
Notably, the U.Va. Strong Fund has allocated donations to Hoo Needs Help, a subset of the Office of Student Affairs that provides resources to students experiencing emergencies or difficult times, including applying for reimbursement for expenses resulting from the tragedy.
As student leaders have focused on planning community gatherings, the U.Va. Strong Fund has closed donations and organizers hope to fully distribute all funds collected. According to West, over 2,000 donors have contributed to the U.Va. Strong Fund, and all of those funds go towards serving three main goals — supporting victims’ families, survivors and their families and those affected by the tragedy.
“We received an overwhelming amount of donations in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and that's where we saw the bulk of contributions, though those contributions continued,” West said.
Despite closing the U.Va. Strong Fund to donations, West said support within the University community should continue.
“The goal, of course, is that you've given out all the money that you have received so that we can do everything possible to help those who need it and need that support,” West said. “[The fund] was never intended to be in perpetuity. It was always intended to be time bound and in direct response to the tragedy.”
The University calendar of events includes a list of other ways that the University will come together to commemorate the lives of Davis Jr., Chandler and Perry, including a dialogue on healing from gun violence organized by the Batten school and a playing of Amazing Grace at the University Chapel followed by three bell tolls to honor each of their lives.