Hoos remember their heroes
After a memorial run Saturday morning, several hundred students gathered outside Scott Stadium to sing:
“We sing for number 1, for number 15 and number 41. We sing for Lavel Davis, Jr., DeSean Perry and Devin Chandler!” said organizer Jake Beyer.
“The Good Old Song ties the football team and the audience together when we have the celebratory moment of a touchdown," student Hailey Mokrzycki explained. "I think we celebrate these three guys who brought joy to our hearts on a field. They brought joy to our hearts in the classroom and just overall made our community strong.”
She added this was a chance for students and those who support them to sing out their pain.
“UVA Students have been through so much – not just people who were at the scene, but all students across the university. I know friends who slept in libraries overnight, not knowing what would happen next and hiding in the dark, in fear.”
Among them, Samantha Wong who was rehearsing a production of Hello Dolly in the Student Activities Building when the first text appeared at 10:30 p.m. November 13th warning of a shooting near Culbreth Hall.
“All the text said was avoid the area, so we were like, let’s finish up notes, and then everyone can get home,” she says.
But another message would follow, alarming about 50 people working on the production. With an active shooter on grounds, it urged students – in capital letters -- RUN, HIDE, FIGHT!
“Everyone just jumped into action," Wong recalls. " We started barricading the doors, covered all the windows with blackout curtains and turned out all the lights. A lot of people were scared and wanted to hide out in the bathrooms, but two hours later, around 1 a.m. we heard the suspect was possibly in Fry Springs Station, so no longer a 25-minute walk away but five minutes down the street. That sort of triggered another wave of panic.”
The trauma of that long night remains, but many students also speak of a new lease on life. We talked with Hailey Mokrzycki, Jake Beyer, Eirini Stylianopoulos , Ethan Elliott and Rob Mundy.
“This terrible tragedy has made me realize there are things that I want to do and that life is short, and I should go after those things and make a brighter world, because these three did every game day," said Mokrzycki.
“Being a young man myself and knowing that there is so much I want to do with my life and these three incredible young men don’t get to experience those things. They don’t get to be with their families,” Beyer adds
“I think it’s given me a newfound appreciation for life,” Stylianopoulos said.
“We can’t change what happened. The best we can do is remember them as we move forward,” said Ethan Elliott.
“It just really puts life into perspective. I mean friends matter, family matters, community matters and stuff like that,” Rob Mundy concluded.
On Friday, police reported the discovery of a small arsenal in the dorm room of accused killer Chrisopher Darnell Jones, Jr., but no one mentioned that or a desire to turn their grief into political action – pressing for greater gun control on campus, in the Commonwealth of the nation, but Stylianopoulos and agreed that time would come.
“Right now I think everybody is just still shell shocked. I think we’re still just processing. I imagine that that will be a discussion for another day, and I believe that it can and it will come up," said student Samuel Veliveli.
“I think that’s a conversation that definitely needs to happen,"
Stylianoapoulos added, "At the moment I think we need to focus on the lives of those we have lost.”
More than 9,000 people gathered at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville to remember three UVA football players who were gunned down one week ago. Sandy Hausman reports mourners prayed, wept, laughed and celebrated the beloved students they had lost.
Serenaded by Grammy winning gospel singer Cece Winans and the Martin Luther King Community Choir, fellow students joined relatives and team members to celebrate the lives of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis, Jr. and D’Sean Perry.
Athletic Director Carla Williams had spoken with their families and shared some of their stories. Chandler, she revealed was known as Devin the Dancing Machine.
“His uncle sent me a video of a 10-year-old Devin, arriving at track practice early, getting out of the car and proceeding to put on a one-kid dance off in the parking lot," she said. "His rhythm was suspect, but his confidence was never in doubt.”
Despite his great height, Davis insisted on sitting in the front row at church so he could hear everything. He loved God and his grandmother’s cooking.
“And he especially loved the 18 scrambled eggs she would make for him,” Williams said.
And D’Sean Perry aspired to be a superhero from an early age:
“When he was 6 years old, D’Sean wanted to be a Red Power Ranger for Halloween,” Williams explained, “so his parents bought him the costume, and he wore the red suit and the red helmet for Halloween, and he didn’t take it off until after Thanksgiving.”
UVA Coach Tony Elliott expressed gratitude to the players he had lost, and to their families for sharing their gifts.
“I want each of you to know that I’m a better person because of your kings. The world is a better place because of them. Going forward I am confident that all three are rejoicing in paradise, speaking good things on behalf of each of us in preparation for the time that we’ll all be together again,” he said.
But it was the words of teammates that moved many mourners to tears.
“D’Sean was the brother I never knew I needed. I opened up to him one day after practice about my story – the story of me and my mother, and he told me he’d always be there for me. He was a glass-half-full kind of person whose smile always lit up the room.”
“I was very angry and had many bad thoughts of revenge from what happened to you. I knew you were all about peace and love, and my mindset switched, because I knew you were in a better place. All I ask is you leave some space for me and your brothers, and that I love you D.”
"I can’t tell you how much of an impact you’ve had on my life, from giving me rides to practice and back to the dorms when it was too cold for us Miami boys or just being a person I could talk to and relate to. I saw the man you had become, and I wanted to be just like you. I now fight for you, D. Everything I do is for you now, and I promise I’ll make you proud.”
"When we moved in together during fall training, that was quite an experience. We woke up, and we were going through it. But every morning you looked at me, you smirked and said, ‘This sucks.' Football was only the part that the world saw, but we got to see so much more. The joy and happiness you brought was infectious. I could never have a bad day around you. I promise to carry your legacy on within me. I can’t say I love you enough, man. LBC – until we meet again, Brother.”