‘A Light to the World’: University of Virginia Pays Tribute to Shooting Victims
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — As the authorities continued to seek answers in the killing of three University of Virginia students, the college and its community paused on Saturday to reflect on the “vibrant, beautiful young men” who were praised for touching countless lives before theirs were cut short.
Family members, students and school administrators were among the more than 9,000 attendees who filled John Paul Jones Arena on the college’s campus in Charlottesville for a memorial service for the three students — Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry — who were fatally shot on Sunday after a class field trip to see a play in Washington.
“To the families, we love your sons,” said Carla Williams, the school’s athletic director, struggling to hold back tears. “And we will make sure their legacy never fades at the University of Virginia.”
Mr. Perry, Mr. Davis and Mr. Chandler were all third-year students on the university’s football team. A fourth football player, Michael Hollins Jr., was shot in the back in the attack and remains hospitalized but is expected to make a full recovery, his father said. Another student, Marlee Morgan, was also injured in the shooting and is also recovering, according to school officials.
The suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., a student who was also on the trip, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and five counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony. He has not entered a plea.
At the memorial, Jim Ryan, the school president, Tony Elliott, the head football coach, and numerous teammates joined Dr. Williams in paying tribute to each of the slain students. The Grammy Award-winning gospel singer CeCe Winans performed the song “Goodness of God.” And the program ended with audience members wearing light-up bracelets they were given that illuminated the darkened venue.
“To my three young kings, I am eternally grateful for you. Thank you for being a light to the world,” Mr. Elliott said during the service.
The victims’ families lined the front rows, and spectators from the lower level to the arena’s upper reaches heard stories both tearful and lighthearted.
All three students were lauded by their friends and teammates, who saw them as brothers and role models who pushed themselves and their peers, were accepting of others and never hesitated to crack a joke.
The crowd laughed as Elijah Gaines, a cornerback on the team, told stories about how much Mr. Davis had loved his hometown of Ridgeville, S.C., “making it sound like it was ‘the biggest city of the world.’” Mr. Gaines recalled the time when he spotted a “187” tattoo on Mr. Davis’s arm and asked him if that was the Ridgeville area code. “No, it’s my exit,” Mr. Davis said, referring to the highway off-ramp in that town.
Dr. Williams, relaying stories told to her by the students’ relatives, described a video of Mr. Chandler as a 10-year-old dancing in a parking lot by himself. “His rhythm was suspect, but his confidence was never in doubt,” she said. About Mr. Davis, she said that he always went to church when he visited his family and insisted on sitting in the first row despite his 6-foot-7 frame, so he could be sure he heard every word. And Mr. Perry, who donned a red Power Ranger costume for Halloween as a child, “didn’t take it off until after Thanksgiving.”
The service came at the end of a violent week for the nation’s universities. Four University of Idaho students were fatally stabbed in a house near the school’s campus in the city of Moscow in the early morning hours of Nov. 12. No suspects have been arrested. And on Saturday, authorities in New Mexico were investigating the killing of a 19-year-old male student earlier that afternoon on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
The Charlottesville service itself was held amid a threatening email related to the event that school officials said they received around midday. But the police said they implemented enhanced security measures at the arena, and the program proceeded without a disruption.
Throughout the week, other University of Virginia sports teams honored the fallen players: The basketball team warmed up with shirts that bore the victims’ last names. and the swimming and diving teams marked their bodies with the players’ uniform numbers: 1, 15 and 41.
Saturday was supposed to be the football team’s final home game of the season against Coastal Carolina, but the game was canceled on Wednesday. In a show of solidarity, former University of Virginia football coaches now at other schools — including Robert Anae and Jason Beck at Syracuse University, Nick Howell at Vanderbilt and Kelly Poppinga at Boise State — stood out on the sidelines of their own games wearing Virginia football attire instead of that of their own universities.
On an episode of his weekly podcast that aired on Friday night, the former Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall was joined by current Virginia coaches in grieving the team’s loss.
“I can tell you, man, it’s indescribable being in it, and these kids need you,” Virginia offensive line coach Garett Tujague said through tears.
Near the end of his comments at the service, Mr. Elliott said that amid everyone’s suffering, there was hope because of what Mr. Perry, Mr. Davis and Mr. Chandler left behind.
“Love will ultimately win,” he said.