Memories of happy times came easily to the teammates and other speakers who came to remember Lavel Davis, Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry at the John Paul Jones Arena Saturday afternoon.
When he was six years old, D’Sean Perry wanted to be a red Power Ranger for Halloween.
His parents got him one.
“He didn’t take it off until Thanksgiving,” said UVa Athletic Director Carla Williams.
Cody Brown remembered how Chandler told him that everything he was doing was for his family and his mother.
Lavel Davis Jr., all six feet and seven inches of him, loved to dance, and he loved the 18 eggs his mother would make for breakfast for him, Williams recounted.
“Lavel would make Ridgeville sound like it’s the biggest city in the world—I’m pretty sure there are only 2,000 people there,” said Elijah Gaines, second-year cornerback, who met Lavel in 2020 during a visit to the University. “I saw he had a 187 tattoo, I told him ‘That’s what’s up, you’re repping your area code.’ He said ‘Nah, that’s my exit!’”
D’Sean Perry was a Renaissance man, teammates said, and a jokester.
“It was a proud moment got me as a coach when D’Sean shared his artwork with me,” said Virginia Cavaliers head football coach Tony Elliott.
But the most consistent theme about the three young men was the light they brought into people’s lives through their contagious smiles, joy, love for one another and dreams to better the people around them.
As Cody Brown, a second-year and a running back on the UVa football team, put it in a letter he wrote to Chandler: “You lit our lives up like a shining star in the sky. Your smile alone was enough to brighten anyone’s day.”
Earlier in the service, the parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents entered the arena—many fighting back tears—one using a walker, and some holding children in their arms. UVa President Jim Ryan asked the crowd to stand in their honor.
A slideshow with photographs of the young men played overhead, showing photos from as recently as this fall and also from when they were children. Friends interviewed for the slideshow talked about how much Devin Chandler loved his teammates, how Lavel Davis Jr. was a “gentle giant” and how hard-working D’Sean Perry was.
And nearly everyone talked about their smiles.
UVa president Jim Ryan welcomed the families of the deceased as well as Governor Glenn Youngkin and other state elected officials as the service began. Ryan let the audience know that counselors and clergy were on-site should people need them during the memorial.
The memorial service began promptly at 3:30 p.m.—by 3:50 p.m., there were 9,075 people in the arena and more than 3,200 people watching the livestream on the UVa website.
Overflow viewers watched the service from Mount Zion First African Baptist Church.
Students compiled a video with photos and voiceovers of their favorite memories with Lavel Davis, Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry.
UVa kicker and third-year Justin Duenkel led the crowd in prayer, and the MLK returned with a rendition of “Total Praise.”
UVa linebacker Hunter Stewart read “Life is Fine,” by Langston Hughes. The poem is about a man who is considering taking his own life but decides to see the beauty in life instead.
“Though you may hear me holler, and you may see me cry—I’ll be dogged, sweet baby if you gonna see me die.”
“We are thankful for the recovery of Marlee Morgan and Mike Hollins,” said UVa Athletic Director Carla Williams. “Mike is recovering with his family here in Charlottesville and Marlee is home with her family.”
“We know the impact of that night is deep and painful.”
“Devin, Lavel and D’Sean were loved by so many people,” Williams said.
Williams shared memories of the students.
“First, Devin, or as his family says, ‘Devin the dancing machine.’”
Williams shared a story that Chandler’s uncle told her, which came with a video.
Davis Jr., who loved going to church with his family when he went home to Ridgeville, South Carolina, especially loved the 18 scrambled eggs his mother would make him.
“We love your sons and we will make sure their legacy never fades at the University of Virginia,” Williams said.