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Laura DeLapp’s family remembers loving mother, fierce advocate

“DeLapp strong.” That’s the DeLapp family motto, and their message to each other after the death of one of their own: Laura DeLapp.

“We’re DeLapp strong,” Jessica DeLapp Cannon, DeLapp’s aunt, told The Daily Progress on Saturday, recalling a recent text message from DeLapp’s mother to the family’s group chat. “That’s how we’ll get through this. We will continue to pray, we’ll continue to lift one another up. I’m not going say it’s going get any easier. We’ll still have our moments. But we’ll make it through.”

DeLapp was killed in a “domestic-related” shooting Tuesday afternoon near the Rio Hills Apartments north of Charlottesville, according to Albemarle County police. She was a mother of five and a manager at the Haven, a local day shelter for Charlottesville’s homeless population.

The Albemarle County Police Department named Jemarcus Devonte Butler as a person of interest in the shooting Thursday, and arrested the 33-year-old Friday. Butler has an extensive rap sheet and has faced dozens of charges over the years in Virginia and along the East Coast, many of them violent crimes.

“People aren’t always who they say they are,” Cannon said. “And he really wasn’t who he said he was.”

“Domestic violence is real, and it comes in all different shapes, forms, sizes. And a lot of times you just don’t know what’s going on in someone’s home,” Cannon added.

DeLapp’s sister has taken custody of her 9-year-old twins, 13-year-old son and two daughters ages 10 and 16.

“This is going to be a long road for them, but the goal is for them to stay in the area,” Cannon said. “We’re going to try to make this as normal a life for them as possible.”

A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for DeLapp’s burial and memorial has surpassed its $40,000 goal, part of which will go to her children. The campaign will remain live until the day of the funeral, which will be at the Haven on Market Street in downtown Charlottesville.

A date has not yet been set.

“We couldn’t even have imagined the number of people that she touched,” Cannon said. “It is just overwhelming. We had no idea how many people, in so many walks of life.”

DeLapp was a “fierce advocate,” working at the nonprofit and having previously volunteered at People And Congregations Engaged in Ministry, or PACEM, an organization that provides shelter in the winter for people experiencing homelessness. Being an advocate and giving back to the community was her “true passion,” Cannon said, and DeLapp treated her clients and fellow staff members like family.

While working at the Haven, DeLapp was nationally recognized by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and sat on various committees to advocate for the homeless and less fortunate.

The Haven closed temporarily this past week to allow staff and clients time to grieve.

“Laura was an amazing force for good,” Anna Mendez, executive director at the Haven, said in an email. “I am a better person for having known her and she made Charlottesville a better place. Mourning with those who mourn is sacred work; thank you for allowing us the time we need.”

Cannon thought of DeLapp as a little sister, being only 10 years apart. DeLapp was the kind of person who could have fun, she said, and they spent lots of time together.

DeLapp even convinced Cannon once to get on a mechanical bull.

“She could be very professional and dress to the nines, or she could go ride her four-wheeler with her shorts on,” Cannon said. “But if she was going to be on that four-wheeler, she would still have her nails and makeup done.”

DeLapp imparted her passion on her children, taking them camping and swimming — not in pools but in rivers and lakes. She let them help out in the kitchen, taught them to ride four-wheelers, motorcycles and dirt bikes, and was supportive of who they wanted to be, Cannon said.

“We have a very close-knit family,” Cannon said, with 35 to 40 family members in the Charlottesville area alone. DeLapp was the oldest of her cousins, who followed her around as children and looked up to her.

Years later, DeLapp became the host for the family’s game nights and get-togethers — which would always end at 9 o’clock so the kids could get to bed. “She was a stickler about bedtime,” Cannon said.

In the wake of DeLapp’s death, Cannon urged individuals, especially young women, to be “careful with who they deal with” and for family and friends to look out for one another. She urged people to “do your due diligence” to find out about a person and call hotlines if illegal activity is suspected.

“Her youngest boy told me, ‘Aunt Jess, this seems like a dream.’ I said, ‘I know baby, it does. It seems like a bad dream but we’re gonna get through this. Your mommy’s with you. Put your hand on your heart, and close your eyes, and think about what she’d say to you.’”

DeLapp’s son told Cannon he thought of times when he was bad and laughed, remembering his mom saying, “Jeremiah, what are you doing?”

Cannon said she’s trying to make DeLapp’s children remember the good times they had with their mother. “I think she’s smiling that we’re all together, and that her kids are going to be OK.”


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