12 Hours in the Dark
Shots fired, then doors locked, and students sheltered with their fears
Note: This account of the events of Nov. 13, 2022, includes details of shootings and may be upsetting to some readers.
It was an average Sunday night.
Katherine Schwartz (Col ’23) had finished up dinner with her boyfriend before he headed to the Fine Arts Library to study. Emmanuel Kenscoff (Engr ’24) embarked on his usual walk from his Jefferson Park Avenue apartment.
Birgitta Taylor-Lillquist (Col ’23) was installed on the first floor of Clemons Library, the “silent floor,” to knock out a paper for her early European history class. Keoni Vega (Col ’26) was getting ready to pick up some chicken tenders at Runk Dining Hall.
And Karina Reynolds (Col ’24) was driving past Culbreth Garage, less than a half-mile from her home at Lambeth Field Apartments.
“As soon as I opened the door, I heard what I now know were gunshots,” she says. “But, at the time, just three really loud bangs. It was like three or four.”
She looked at her roommate, who heard it too. It was somebody banging on a trash can, they rationalized. Then came the UVA Alerts, a drumbeat of dozens of tweets, text messages and emails about shots fired at the Culbreth Garage, and an evening that would unfold in terror, trauma and tragedy.
Quickly, Reynolds and her roommate, both Lambeth resident advisers, hunkered down in their bathroom—their only room without windows. They locked themselves inside and started texting their residents about what they knew. Reynolds was familiar with the RUN HIDE FIGHT command only from an RA manual she’d been issued.
“We just tell them to run, which means evacuate if it’s safe to do so. Hide, lock all doors and stay inside. And then fight, just prepare to defend yourself, is basically what the procedure is,” she said. “But other than that, there wasn’t too much to tell them. We all advised them to go in their bathrooms to avoid windows.”
On his walk, which ordinarily took him past UVA Hospital and to the Corner, Kenscoff didn’t take the first alert seriously; past notifications hadn’t amounted to much. But the words “RUN HIDE FIGHT” signaled something different. “It kind of was worrying because you don’t get that email unless things are going down,” he said.
He took cover inside Pinn Hall, a medical school academic building, where he’d spend nearly 12 hours.
Vega wasn’t really worried either, at first. He remembers telling a Dillard House roommate, an American who had lived in Europe for the past nine years, “This is the unfortunate reality of living in America.” But, on the walk back from Runk, the severity of the situation set in with each alert.
Even before she saw the alerts, Schwartz’s boyfriend, who declined to be interviewed, told her to lock her doors and stay inside. Inside the Fine Arts Library, so close to Culbreth Garage, students around him had heard the gunshots.
Schwartz’s roommate had been out of town, so she was on her own inside her first-floor Grady Avenue apartment with a main door into the building that didn’t always lock well. She hid in her bathroom after barricading her bedroom door with a bookshelf. Schwartz and her boyfriend would stay on the phone, often not saying a word, until the early morning as she texted friends, scanned social media posts and streamed the police scanner.
All that information was a “double-edged sword,” she said. She knew her friends were safe. But as rumors and speculation mentioned the shooter’s possible locations around Grounds, her safety seemed constantly in question. To make matters worse, a Charlottesville man had been threatening UVA on social media earlier that day, adding to the concern and questions.
“There was real terror in what’s left to the imagination,” she said. “It was confirmed as shots fired, and then you think is this just the beginning of the terror, this horrific night. That was a real fear.”
Like others, Taylor-Lillquist also didn’t think much of the first alerts. She’d remembered earlier reports that fall of a BB gun near Culbreth Theatre. But the rapid succession of alerts caught her attention.
To a family group chat, she texted a picture of her open laptop with a UVA alert and the Clemons stacks in the background. “They are right by my house,” she tapped out at 11:01 p.m. “Multiple cars, active shooter scenario.”
“Clem One,” as it’s nicknamed, is usually completely silent, but on that night pockets of whispers bubbled up, Taylor-Lillquist remembers. And more quickly than the alerts were the texts and social media posts between friends and families. Rumors floated about the potential toll.
“3 people are reportedly dead this is scary,” Taylor-Lillquist texted her family at 11:03 p.m., more than five hours before the fatalities were officially announced. “Not sure when to leave to go home.”
From a library window, she could see ambulances and police cars. “Please stay safe Birgitta!!!” a relative texted soon after.
In the ensuing hours, the rumor mill had already identified the shooter’s connection to UVA’s football team and the names of victims. “Apparently the suspect is a football player,” Taylor-Lillquist texted her family at 12:13 a.m., an hour before authorities broadcast the name of Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. Later they revealed that Jones had only briefly been on the football team and not since fall 2018.
Vega and his friends remained glued to the police scanner and social media, including Yik Yak, an anonymous posting platform that’s popular with college students. UVA’s alerts seemed vague, and the instructions to Run Hide Fight were unfamiliar.
“For hours, we’re all kind of huddled upstairs,” he said. “The information was really weak. We got a text from our [resident adviser] saying, ‘Get away from the windows.’ And, it’s like, ‘Why get away from the windows. Are they nearby?’”
Kenscoff had no plans to leave Pinn Hall, named after Dr. Vivian Pinn (Med ’67), among UVA’s first Black female medical school graduates. He walked around the building, staying away from windows. He tried to sleep on a chair, but the floor was more comfortable. His roommate checked in with him, and he followed social media.
He desperately wanted to make the 20-minute trek back to his apartment. But he also wanted to stay safe—and he didn’t want to get stopped. Other than the color of his skin, he bears no resemblance to Jones. But his race was a consideration.
“It was a factor because as a Black man, you can be mistaken,” he said. “I don’t look like the person, but also it’s like there is some factor to it where I don’t want to push it.”
When Jones’ name came out, people in Kenscoff’s circle and on social media recognized him.
When they announced his name, “it was a lot of shock,” Kenscoff said. “One, because he’s Black. And a lot of people didn’t expect that the guy that we’re talking about is Black. So that definitely shocked a lot of people in the Black community. It was like a stab in the back almost. Because a lot of what the Black community here fights for is this sense of belonging to the University. … It felt like a huge setback.”
As Kenscoff tried to rest inside Pinn Hall, the 3 a.m. hour was a turning point for Schwartz, Reynolds and Taylor-Lillquist.
Inside Clemons, Taylor-Lillquist was restless. While other students were in groups, she was on her own, desperately missing her roommates, who all play on UVA’s Ultimate Frisbee team. “That was a really lonely experience,” she said.
Like others, she had tried to sleep in a booth by a window. But when a car’s backfire outside sounded like a gunshot, everybody moved away. She went up to the third floor, where there were couches. Throughout the night, she followed the police scanner. For a break, she listened to episodes from her favorite soccer podcast, “Men in Blazers.”
Then she heard rumblings from other students that no authority could stop them from leaving. Her thought process played out in her texts to family.
“I can leave if i want but they have no idea where he is.”
“What if I just come home.”
She’d second-guess her decision later, but she went for it, sprinting down the stairs to her car with 911 dialed on her phone, waiting for her to hit Talk.
At 2:59 a.m. she texted: “Made it to my car. Decided to leave.”
Normally, she’d drive by the Culbreth Garage, but she took the long way around to Barracks Road and back up to her 14th Street home, alerting a roommate who was still up.
“i am home safe in my room,” she texted her family at 3:12 a.m.
About 3:30 a.m., after speaking with police, Schwartz’s boyfriend and others inside the Fine Arts Library also left. He borrowed a friend’s car to pick Schwartz up and bring her to his house.
“He called me when he was out front, and I came out at the exact moment that he pulled up,” moving away the bookshelf she had used to barricade her bedroom door, she said.
Around 4 a.m., Reynolds and her roommate felt it was safe enough to move to the bedroom. “We’re still scared,” she remembers, “but we were just way too exhausted.”
They rested, but there was no real sleep. At 7 a.m., she got up and turned the police scanner back on to listen for updates.
With the shelter-in-place order lifted, Kenscoff made his way home. It was a clear sky and a beautiful day, but he saw only a couple of people on his walk. And he remembers the air. It felt dense.
“It felt like a moment of silence—like you just didn’t want to interrupt it,” he said of the atmosphere around Grounds. When he got home, he ate, then crashed, exhausted.
Vega had finally fallen asleep around 4 a.m. He woke up around 10 a.m., not long before the lockdown was lifted, to missed calls and texts. He tuned in to UVA’s 11 a.m. press conference for an update on the tragedy.
“I had been watching it for a minute or two when they announced he had been captured,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I had heard it correctly. I said to my suitemate, ‘I’m pretty sure they just caught the guy.’”
Taylor-Lillquist and her roommates had made a breakfast of eggs and French toast and were watching the press conference, too. In real time, they saw University Police Chief Timothy J. Longo Sr. step away from the lectern to listen to a whisper from a Virginia State Police captain and then announce Jones was in custody.
“It was like out of a TV show or movie, watching the news conference,” Taylor-Lillquist said.
She remembers feeling a sense of relief. “I don’t think it will ever be over,” she said. “The UVA community is always going to be dealing with this. It’s always something we’ll keep with us. … I just feel so bad, in general, when I think about it, and sad. The whole experience for me was really terrifying. I’ve never felt more fear for my life than in that moment.”
And even news that Jones was in custody wasn’t a complete comfort. Vega, who is first-year class president, asked a fourth-year to drive him to a meeting that morning for student leaders and administrators to begin planning the vigil and other support for students.
“They just announced that they caught the guy, and I was like, I don’t want to walk. I don’t feel safe,” he said.
And still out there was another concern: The Charlottesville man who had been threatening violence to UVA on Twitter was still at large. The Charlottesville Police Department announced his arrest at 8 p.m. that Monday, saying it appeared unrelated to the shooting. “However, we understood the fear this caused in our community and acted swiftly to resolve the investigation,” the press release acknowledged.
Throughout the night, students said they weren’t sure if he was the shooter or involved in the violence. When Schwartz learned he’d been arrested too, “that was when I took a sigh of relief,” she said.
As the UVA Alerts shifted from warnings to information about support and services, some students scattered. Others stayed put.
Schwartz went to her mother’s home in Richmond for a couple of days. Taylor-Lillquist was thankful she already had an appointment scheduled with her therapist that day. Kenscoff, student associate at the Center for Diversity in Engineering in Thornton Hall, helped with an event for students that featured food and lots of hugs.
Bleary-eyed from her night in her bathroom, Reynolds, vice president of the Class of 2024, got to work as part of a larger group of student leaders, including Vega, and UVA administrators to help plan support and memorials.
Reynolds is careful to note that she was not directly involved in the tragedy. “It’s not my trauma,” she said. “So many other people were affected so much more.”
But she can still hear those gunshots. “After the memorial, I lost it. I totally broke down. My friend was there to support me, and I broke down in his arms, just so heartbroken,” she said. “All the distractions of planning were over, and I think it finally caught up with me in that moment.”
Jan. 28, 2023
The notification from campus police warned the UVA community again, alerting them to a deadly shooting near UVA Hospital that didn’t involve any students. Notification about another shooting, only a block or two away, came two days later.
For Vega, new notifications about shootings haven’t triggered a fight-or-flight response. “It’s just kind of the realities of America and this town,” he said.
But, for others, it was a reminder of the hours they spent that night sheltered in their dorm rooms or apartments, the library, study rooms, basements and classroom labs. Vega knows of people who didn’t leave their dorm room for days, in such a “shocked depressive state,” after the November tragedy.
Vega, along with other student leaders, has been regularly sharing links to mental health resources on Grounds with students, he said. UVA’s mental health services were already stretched before the shooting and 12-hour lockdown. Like at other college campuses across the country, the demand for mental health services “skyrocketed” when students returned to Grounds after pandemic-related lockdowns, said Nicole Ruzek, director of counseling and psychological services, called CAPS, at UVA. Demand only grew higher after the shooting, she said.
“We saw the numbers in all of those categories, and collectively, our crisis services, go way up during the two weeks following the shooting,” Ruzek said.
To support students, UVA rolled out new services—from drop-in events organized by individual schools and student groups to new group therapy sessions and visits with therapy dogs. Ruzek’s office fanned out to 70 classes at the request of academic departments and professors.
As students returned to Grounds for the spring semester, Ruzek said, the demand for mental health services remains higher than usual. How students respond and react to the tragedy—whether they were directly involved or not—will depend on their own backgrounds, perspectives and experience, she said.
“In that initial aftermath, there’s a lot of community coming together, then things go back to normal. Some people just move on,” she said. “And then, there are those who are still kind of stuck in that moment, still kind of struggling to get through it. Those are the ones who are going to need some ongoing support.”
For Schwartz, the grief was coming in waves a month after the shootings. “There’s times when you start to sort of regain a sense of normalcy, and then something has triggered this emotion,” she said. “For me, I feel like that happens when I’m driving past Beta Bridge or Culbreth and it dawns on me again. Even, sometimes, when I go to park my car and I feel kind of scared. And it’s more like, I get sad that I have to feel scared in this place that I love. … And this was done by a student at UVA who had these guns, and he just as easily could have walked into a lecture hall. What would have happened to all of us then?”