Skip to main content

Shock, grief and a coming together: UVA reacts to the tragic shootings on Grounds

Tributes to the slain players left at Scott Stadium’s North Gate, which has become a place to linger and reflect for students and other members of the community. Ézé Amos

Devin Chandler (Col ’24) loved to dance, even after grueling football practices. Quick with a smile and a joke, he was such a vibrant presence on the UVA team that “You felt and heard Devin before you ever saw him,” coach Tony Elliott said.

Lavel Davis Jr. (Col ’24) was 6-foot-7 and never stood taller than when talking about his hometown of Ridgeville, South Carolina, population 1,610. “I swear Lavel made it sound like the biggest city in the world,” teammate Elijah Gaines (Col ’24) said.

D’Sean Perry (Col ’23) had the tough exterior of a linebacker but the soul of an artist. He painted, played the piano, rapped, and loved poetry and all kinds of music. “He was a true, modern-day example of a Renaissance man,” teammate Hunter Stewart (Col ’23) said.

“Football was only the part the world saw,” teammate Nick Jackson (Com ’23) said of Perry. “But we got to see so much more.”

The sentiment applied to all three players, whose full and well-rounded lives, brimming with promise, were cut short when they were fatally shot while returning from a field trip the night of Nov. 13.

Authorities have charged UVA student Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. (Col ’22) with three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious bodily injury and five counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony in the shootings, in which students Mike Hollins (Col ’23), also a member of the football team, and Marlee Morgan (Col ’25) were wounded. Both students have been released from UVA Medical Center, Hollins after reportedly undergoing two surgeries.

The number and nature of the charges against Jones could change as an investigation proceeds. At Jones’ first court appearance, two days after his arrest, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley (Law ’76) said Jones was not shooting randomly, but targeted specific victims. Jones shot one victim as he slept, Hingeley said.

The shootings shocked and traumatized a UVA community ordered to shelter in place for nearly 12 hours while police searched Grounds. Soon after the order was lifted, Jones was arrested near Richmond. In the weeks since, students, faculty, staff, community members and alumni have struggled to come to terms with a crime that “pierced the peace and innocence that graced our Grounds last Sunday night,” President James E. Ryan (Law ’92) said at a memorial service Nov. 19.

“It changed our world.”

Grounds bears the evidence of that. Weeks after the shootings, students and community members continued to leave flowers, candles, drawings and messages of support at Scott Stadium’s North Gate. Bouquets have also lined the walls of Beta Bridge, which was painted Cavalier orange, with the message “Forever in Our Hearts” and the jersey numbers and initials of Chandler (No. 15), Davis (No. 1) and Perry (No. 41) added in blue and white. 

Bedsheets bearing the words “UVA Strong” and the numbers 1, 15 and 41 hang from porches along Rugby Road and Madison Lane. University Transit buses display the names of the players. The hashtag #uvastrong has appeared on T-shirts, buttons, stickers and messages of support.

“UVA Strong” signs with the players’ jersey numbers have popped up all around Charlottesville, including on the Corner. Ézé Amos

Classes were canceled the Monday and Tuesday after the shootings. That Monday night, a student-led candlelight vigil on the South Lawn drew thousands of silent mourners who held up real and battery-powered candles and, when the supply of them ran out, cellphone flashlights.

On the afternoon of Nov. 19, about the time they would have taken the field for a game against Coastal Carolina, football players instead filed into John Paul Jones Arena for a memorial service honoring the lives and legacy of their fallen teammates.

A crowd of more than 9,000 turned out for the service, which was also livestreamed. Large placards with pictures of Chandler, Davis and Perry stood at the rear of the stage.

“I hope we can take a measure of solace in being together to remember and to honor them, along with Mike and Marlee,” Ryan said in his welcoming remarks. “As I’ve said before, shared grief is a powerful reminder that it is our bonds with each other and with a common community that matter more than our perceived differences and give us the strength to endure.”

Voices rose in song and heads bowed in prayer during a roughly 90-minute service, in which a succession of speakers made their way to the stage, some with voices breaking with emotion and eyes welling with tears.

Teammates of the three players spoke of the brotherhood forged through the physical and mental trials that come with playing major college football—the grinding workouts, the full schedule of academic and athletic obligations, the sometimes-overwhelming transition from high school to a higher level for first-year players.

They told of light moments in the locker room, of hopes and dreams they’d discussed—and pledged to carry them on in memory of their teammates.

“Everything I do is for you now, and I promise I’ll make you proud,” Will Bettridge (Col ’26) said of Perry, with whom he’d played in high school in Miami and whom he followed to UVA.

Jackson called Perry “the calm in the storm around me” during pre-season camp.

“Every day in the morning you looked at me, smirked and said, ‘This sucks,’” Jackson said with a smile. “But afterward you said: ‘Let’s go.’”

Jared Raymen (Batten ’23) remembered Davis as a “natural-born leader” known for his infectious smile and for a work ethic that made him the first one at the practice facility and the last to leave. 

Lorenz Terry (Col ’25) said the outgoing Chandler brought “light and joy to everybody.”

“We never thought we would have to say goodbye so soon,” Cody Brown (Col ’25) said. “It was never supposed to be this way.”

Her voice breaking, director of athletics Carla Williams promised the players’ families that their sons’ legacies will never fade at UVA. 

Elliott said that UVA will turn tragedy into triumph and rebuild the community and the football program on the legacies of the slain players. The team’s final game, scheduled to be played at Virginia Tech on Nov. 26, was canceled.

UVA requested an external review of the circumstances that led to the shooting and the University’s immediate actions in the aftermath. The request was granted by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who said he will appoint a firm to conduct the review.

“Once an external review commences, we expect it to be the central avenue by which we gain a deeper understanding about what led to this tragic event,” Rector Whitt Clement (Col ’70, Law ’74) said.

Jones came on school officials’ radar this fall while they were investigating hazing, UVA Police Chief Timothy Longo said in a news conference the morning after the shootings. In mid-September, a student told the Office of Student Affairs that Jones had made a comment about having a gun. The University prohibits the possession of weapons or ammunitions on its property by anyone other than law enforcement.

A threat assessment team investigated the comment and learned that Jones had been convicted of a misdemeanor concealed weapons charge in 2021, Longo said. Under University policy, Jones was required to reveal that conviction to the school. Jones refused to cooperate with the investigation and his case was escalated by Student Affairs for possible disciplinary action on Oct. 27, University spokesman Brian Coy said. But the report of the conviction was not relayed to the student-led University Judiciary Committee, which typically takes weeks or months to resolve cases, Coy said.

The Daily Progress reported Nov. 17 that a search of Jones’s dorm room in Bice House turned up a semi-automatic rifle, a pistol, ammunition, magazines and a binary trigger, a device used to make bullets fire faster.

Ed Miller is senior editor of Virginia Magazine.