Head to the University of Virginia’s athletics website, and the pearly white smiles of three football players — Lavel Davis Jr., 20; Devin Chandler, 20; and D’Sean Perry, 22 — killed in a shooting Sunday evening — shine on the site’s front page.
Classes were canceled on Monday and Tuesday as the university’s community worked through the grief and emotional toll of the horrific shooting. And in a statement, Virginia Head Football Coach Tony Elliott said that the three “were incredible young men with huge aspirations and extremely bright futures.”
How did those futures get snuffed out? 22-year-old fellow student Christopher Darnell Jones Jr was able to get his hands on a gun.
UVA police chief Timothy Longo admitted in a press conference that the university’s multi-disciplinary threat assessment team received information in September that Jones had a gun on campus.
Jones was arrested on Monday morning and charged with three charges of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony.
Now, in the aftermath of the shooting, Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin and other policymakers are facing renewed calls for stricter gun laws.
A Never-Ending Spiral of Violence
“We don’t have to accept this sad reality that nowhere is safe from gun violence,” Shannon Watts, founder of the grassroots organization Moms Demand Action said in a statement. ”We must continue to demand action from our elected leaders so we can prevent senseless violence and help save lives.”
Dr. Bernice King, CEO of The King Center, said the spiral of violence is impacting the next generation more than any other demographic, and “we cannot live with gun violence.”
In 2022, there were at least 152 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, with over 300 shootings on grounds of a college or university since 2013.
Governor Youngkin, who is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, received plenty of pushback for his Nov. 14 Twitter post referring to the UVA mass shooting as an “event.”
“It was not an ‘event’ Glenn. It was a mass shooting in your state and under your leadership. It was gun violence. Glenn, call it what it is,” tweeted anti gun-violence activist Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime Guttenberg was murdered in 2018 during in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
A Need for Dialogue
In addition to gun control laws, Ernest Crim III, CEO and founder of Crim’s Cultural Consulting LLC, says to prevent something like the UVA shooting from happening again, universities need to enable students to engage in dialogue about their experiences, both past and present.
“We have so many unresolved issues and trauma we’re dealing with.” Crim, a Chicago native and former teacher who delivers Black history lessons to his nearly 332,000 followers on TikTok and another 94,000 on Instagram, tells Word In Black.
“There needs to be dialogue, forums, smaller forums, as some people call them — affinity groups of people who share similar experiences— and also larger forums…we truly want to think about and figure out why this happened,” Crim says.
“The problem is that on a college campus, you have students who are sometimes depressed and suicidal,” Northeastern University professor James Alan Fox told Northeastern University News.
Fox, who has written over a dozen books on mass murder, serial murder youth crime, school and campus violence, workplace violence, and capital punishment, said that thanks to the efforts of the organization Students for Concealed Carry, guns are allowed on college campuses in 20 states. The proliferation of weapons on campuses increases the possibility of even more gun-related deaths — and raises the question of what law makers are willing to do to stop the nation’s mass shooting crisis.
“Legislatures have to do what they have the power to do and that’s to attempt to create a structure that provides safety,” Crim says. “I understand they won’t be able to prevent everything, that’s just not possible, but make it more difficult.”
Indeed Virginia State Sen. Louise Lucas, chairperson of the state’s Education and Health Committee, took to Twitter after the mass shooting to raise the call for bipartisan gun safety laws.
“The senseless gun violence at UVA last night is horrific and begs the question; how long is it going to take and how many lives will be lost before we pass bipartisan common sense gun control laws?” Lucas wrote.
Meanwhile, UVA’s students, staff, and parents are left grieving. Monday evening, thousands of community members holding candles gathered on the South Lawn of the campus to mourn the killed young men.
On Tuesday, campus bus headlines displayed remembrances of the three student-athletes, with the ending phrase, “UVA STRONG.”
Jack Hamilton, professor of media studies and American studies at UVA, taught both Chandler and Davis this year.
“In my experience, star athletes often tend to hang out with other athletes (understandable, given the time commitment), but Vel seemed to go out of his way to make friends with non-athletes,” Hamilton wrote on Twitter. “They were great people with truly limitless futures.”
Will Bettridge, Perry’s teammate in both highschool and UVA shared a video from Perry’s college signing day.
“I was at your signing day wanting to be like you,” Bettridge said. “A big reason my path took me to UVA. Love you D miss you.”
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