From President Ryan: Difficult Losses and a Powerful Response
By now you have undoubtedly heard about the tragedy of Nov. 13, 2022. The loss of three students, and the injuries to two more, shocked and shook our community. The depth and breadth of the loss is difficult to capture in words, and the reverberations of this event—for the families, teammates, friends, fellow students, faculty and staff—will undoubtedly continue for some time. But the response—from fellow students, to faculty, staff, alumni and the broader community—brought us together in some very powerful and profound ways, which I hope will also be remembered, and continue, for some time.
Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry were football players, but they were so much more. These were young men with full lives ahead. Those who knew them best spoke of them as kind and funny; ambitious yet humble; studious with eclectic interests: They brought joy and light to the world that will never be replaced. Mike Hollins and Marlee Morgan, the two students who were injured, are fortunately on the road to recovery.
The tragic events of that night reached across Grounds. They touched the students and faculty member on the bus who witnessed the shootings; the first responders who attended to the deceased and to the injured; the football team and coaching staff, who knew these student-athletes so well; friends and classmates of the victims and the shooter; students who were sheltering in place during the pursuit of the suspect and who were genuinely afraid, including those closest to the incident; and members of the community who have previously been affected by gun violence. This was no typical loss, if there is such a thing; it was a tragedy that touched nearly every member of our community.
And yet. In the aftermath of that terrible and harrowing night was an outpouring of support from all corners of the University. So many worked so hard to support those who were affected and to help our community recover. It is to them that I owe my deepest gratitude and admiration. It has been said that adversity does not build character; it reveals it. What I saw in the days and weeks after the shooting revealed the remarkable character of this compassionate, committed and caring community.
Students demonstrated amazing strength and a deep resolve to help. They immediately stepped up to coordinate a deeply moving silent vigil on the Lawn. Fourth-years rededicated their traditional 5k run, donating the proceeds to the victims and their families. Teammates and friends spoke on behalf of the victims at the University memorial service. Architecture students built memorials for display outside JPJ, where people left flowers. The Cavalier Marching Band performed stirring tributes on the Lawn and at the memorial service. Student organizers of the Lighting of the Lawn adapted the program to allow our community to come together to celebrate the lives lost.
Our faculty and staff, themselves struggling with grief, reached out to help heal. Faculty opened their homes to students looking for a place to gather. Deans accommodated two days of canceled classes and a pivot to amended academic policies. The University Police Department coordinated with state and federal agencies on law enforcement and security. Catering provided food and drink to student gatherings. And our Office of Student Affairs launched a massive student support effort, arranging for walk-in counseling, therapy dogs, direct outreach to affected students, study breaks during finals, and an innovative buddy program over winter break, designed especially to support the African American community.
Meanwhile, residents of Charlottesville and the surrounding communities came to Grounds to reflect and pay tribute to the victims. Gov. Youngkin laid flowers at Scott Stadium and attended the memorial service, as did other state, local and federal officials. Our Alumni Association worked day and night to set up the UVA Strong Fund, designed to support the families of the victims. Local clergy and counselors offered much-needed support. The Boar’s Head worked with us to open its beautiful Winter Wander event over two nights for UVA students, faculty and staff. And perhaps most movingly, we have received an outpouring of assistance from colleagues at Virginia Tech, who have aided in all aspects of our recovery.
As I write this in January of 2023, Virginia State Police are in the midst of a criminal investigation, and, per our request, Attorney General Miyares has appointed counsel to undertake an external review of the events leading to the tragedy. Students have returned to Grounds for the January term and teams across the University are preparing for the start of a new semester. Faculty have begun plans to study the persistent challenge of gun violence in our communities.
The devastating loss of Devin, Lavel and D’Sean means a long and likely winding road to recovery ahead. But in so many ways, this community has never felt more like family, and I’ve never felt more privileged to be a part of it.
James E. Ryan (Law ’92)
President of the University of Virginia