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"I'm not sure if I have the right words yet": UVa students react to Sunday night shooting

At a Monday evening vigil, students at the University of Virginia made their first attempt at healing the heartbreak left by the loss of three peers who were murdered on Sunday night.

University student and ex-football player Christopher Darnell Jones, Jr., 22, is suspected of killing Devin Chandler, a second-year student from Virginia Beach; Lavel Davis Jr., a third-year student from Ridgeville, South Carolina; and D’Sean Perry, a fourth-year student from Miami, Florida.

Students held onto each other as they sat on the grass in front of Old Cabell Hall on UVa grounds. In the silence, mourners sniffled and sobbed. One student stepped off to the side to hyperventilate and cry on her own while another took a step away from the crowd to vomit in the grass.

Football players from the UVa Cavaliers and their loved ones stood at the top of the steps looking out at the sea of electric tealight candles and cell phone flashlights.

Earlier that afternoon, University of Virginia students had ventured out for the first time after shelter-in-place directives had been listed. Some were so overwhelmed that they could not talk about the deaths.

In addition to the grief many experienced, many also had experienced fear and anxiety knowing that an active shooter was among them, somewhere.

“I’m not sure if I have the right words yet,” said Lisa Kapelnik, a second-year student from Oakland, Calif. said on Monday afternoon. “It’s numbing. It’s extremely shocking. You see this and you don’t think it’s possible it could happen here.”

“I just feel really sad today,” Kameron, a second-year student at UVa said through tears. “I live in Lambeth and we heard the gunshots from my room.”

About a dozen members of the football team shared tear-filled long embraces and walked with their heads down as they left McCue Center Monday around noon. When asked if they would like to speak about their deceased teammates to memorialize them, each declined—with one member stating that he was not ready to talk.

Other students talked about the fear they felt wondering if the attacker might find them.

“I was thinking about the way the suspect was going to go, if he was going to pass by my window,” said Yi Lin, a postdoctoral fellow at UVa. She was alone in her apartment all night.

Lin’s roommate was studying in the library when university police asked students to shelter in place. Her roommate had been stuck there for about 12 hours, Lin said, and was cold and scared when she returned a little before noon.

The shelter-in-place order had students spending the night in academic buildings, the campus gym and dorm bathrooms.

“It was sort of difficult to figure out whether the danger was continued after the shooting had occurred,” said third-year student Lewis Kothman.

American studies professor Jack Hamilton remembered Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis, Jr., whom he taught, in a series of tweets.

Chandler “was an unbelievably nice person, always a huge smile, really gregarious and funny. [O]ne of those people who’s just impossible not to like. [I]t is so sad and enraging that he is gone,” Hamilton wrote.

Hamilton described Davis, Jr. as quieter than Chandler, but just as kind.

“[O]ne thing that struck me about [La]vel was how much his classmates liked him and vice versa. [I]n my experience star athletes often tend to hang out with other athletes (understandable, given the time commitment) but [La]vel seemed to go out of his way to make friends with non-athletes,” Hamilton wrote.

Mercedes Herrero and her son Javy biked to the garage where the three students were killed. Herrero fought back tears as she placed a letter that her son had written to the students, apologizing on behalf of the man who killed them. She also placed a bouquet of flowers on top of others that had been placed there.

“I just had to do something,” she said. “It reminds me again of the summer of hate, a brutal occurrence in my hometown, of three beautiful men, with those gorgeous smiles. Someone said ‘what a world,’ and I said ‘what a country.’ These kinds of gun deaths don’t happen in other countries.”

There have now been six homicides in Charlottesville and Albemarle County in the last two months. Acting field operations chief for the Charlottesville Police Department Tony Newberry told The Daily Progress in October he estimated there had been more than 160 cases of shots fired between April and October.

“The fact that there’s an alert system in place for an active shooter is just terrifying in and of itself,” said Christian Carlson, a first-year Ph.D. student who was in his dorm on-grounds when he received the shelter-in-place text message alert from UPD. “It’s the reality of the country we live in right now.”

“The mood on grounds is tangibly different,” Carlson said. “It’s a Monday—we’re supposed to have people going to class reluctantly. The school vibe that makes you want to go to class is just gone today.”

“It’s a weird vibe on grounds today,” Sarah, a fourth-year student said. “We definitely wouldn’t have come out for a walk if [the suspect] hadn’t been caught.”

“I’m hanging in there,” another fourth-year student said as he shook his head while sitting on the Rotunda steps.

Student leaders including UVa Student Council president Cecelia Cain met with Vice President Dean of Students Robyn Hadley for a conversation about moving forward around 1 p.m. on Monday.

In an Instagram post, Student Council let followers know that students could meet in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom, Gibbons House and the 1515 student center on the Corner to speak with counselors from UVa’s counseling and psychological services department.

Per an email from UVa President Jim Ryan, UVa will not hold classes or formal academic activities on Tuesday, November 15.

“We have also asked deans and, through them, the faculty to be as flexible as possible with respect to students, assignments, and attendance. We are also working with students to plan a university-wide vigil. More details will be forthcoming,” Ryan said in the email.

Iron Will Gym, located in the Pantops Shopping Center, is offering UVa students a free day pass while the campus gym is closed.

Sunday night’s mass shooting was not the only violent crime the area saw over the weekend. On Saturday, Charlottesville police responded to a call of shots fired on the 800 block of Hardy Drive. The shooting reportedly left a juvenile with multiple gunshot wounds.


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