Community Recalls Mass Shooting in Its Own Words

Photos of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis, and D'Sean Perry

by Katrina Spencer

Late Sunday night, November 13, 2022, five students from the University of Virginia (UVA) were shot, three of whom were killed, upon returning from a class field trip to Washington, D.C. Following the shooting, the UVA campus went into lockdown as the suspected shooter was sought. Several hundreds of students followed local authorities’ orders and sheltered in place, spending the night in a variety of campus buildings, including libraries. The deceased, Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis, Jr., and D’Sean Perry were all football players at UVA. The injured survivors, Michael Hollins, also on the football team, and Marlee Morgan, would later be released from the hospital. The suspected shooter, Christopher Darnell Jones, Jr., also an UVA student and former football player, was taken into custody 12 hours later. One month later, four community members recall the night of the tragedy, share how they have been impacted, and comment on what they want future community members to know about that night. They have replied in their own words below. 

photo of journalist

Daily Progress reporter Sydney Shuler, photo provided by contributor

Sydney Shuler, University of Virginia Reporter at The Daily Progress

I was just wrapping up my Sunday wind-down routine when I got the notification.

“UVA ALERT: SHOTS FIRED REPORTED AT CULBRETH GARAGE. FOLLOW FIRE/POLICE DIRECTION. IF POSSIBLE, AVOID THE AREA.”

I immediately threw on the nearest pants, sweatshirt and coat I could find before flying out the door with only my phone and keys.

I was already hearing from the UVa students I built relationships with that one football player shot at least two other football players on a bus – that’s what their friends told them.

I stood on the corner of Culbreth Rd. and Ivy Rd. from 11 p.m. on Nov. 12 to 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 13 waiting for the smallest bits of information from university, city, county or state police who were all on the scene that night I was up again by 6 a.m., with more questions than I went to bed with, for the UPD press conference. 

As the UVa beat reporter for The Daily Progress right in Charlottesville, I felt such a strong sense of responsibility to keep this community informed. I also felt protective of the students and victims who had endured so much in the 12 hours between the shooting and the shelter-in-place order being lifted.

As a Black woman and recent college graduate, I was devastated. As a journalist, I was also devastated.

While I mourn the lives of Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis, Jr. I can’t help but grieve for the life of Christopher Darnell Jones, Jr. as well. Four Black men defied stereotypes and statistics by attending one of the best public universities in the country. Three Black men had true chances of playing professional football after graduation. Two Black students, injured victims Marlee Morgan and Michael Hollins, will have to let their trauma heal like a scar. I grieve for professor Theresa Davis, who I’m sure did not expect such an outcome as she planned dinner and a show for her African American Theater class.

Even while I work to uncover the facts of this case, I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will never truly understand why people commit such senseless acts of violence. 

When the Charlottesville community and beyond look back onthis the events of Nov. 13, I want people to know how Black UVA was impacted by this tragedy. The community is used to coming together to support one another in the face of violence, hatred and injustice. Students, faculty, alumni, employees and parents rallied around each other for the entire week after the shooting. Faculty and independent student organizations hosted safe spaces in the Multicultural Center, the Office of African American Affairs and Mount Zion First African Baptist Church. 

The group of about 22 students plus a Black UVA professor were on a field trip for their African American Theater class. The group was returning to the university after traveling to see a play called The Ballad of Emmett Till at the Mosaic Theater in Washington, D.C. The class and its professor had dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant after the play and before returning home to Charlottesville. Although not all students in the class are Black, the field trip presented a uniquely Black experience to these students at a predominantly white institution. That experience is now tainted by what is likely the most traumatic situation that anyone involved has ever experienced.

Photo of University Archivist Lauren Longwell

University Archivist Lauren Longwell, photo provided by contributor

Lauren Longwell, University of Virginia Archivist, and Brenda Gunn, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation 

Both: We had very different experiences that Sunday night. Lauren was at home and asleep, learning of the events later in the night from the many alerts received, while Brenda was in New York City to oversee the packing of a rare book collection. 

Lauren: I remember realizing that the terrible events we see so often on the news were happening in our community. I recall wanting details immediately, needing to know why this had happened but recognizing that details wouldn’t make it better. 

Photo of Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation Brenda Gunn

Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation Brenda Gunn, photo provided by contributor

Brenda: I felt heavy, unsure of everything, and full of sorrow as I walked in a bubble of silence punctuated by the normal cacophony of Manhattan life.  

Professionally, the event has clarified my thinking about what events we document in Special Collections, and most importantly, when. The event has also removed the false sense of urgency to document immediately. While I believe that archives are important and vital for truth, reconciliation and repair work, I’m more comfortable as a result of this event stating that building an archival collection is not more important than the immediate care and welfare of a community in pain. And it is important to remember that the archivists, whose job it is to document an event, are community members as well. Personally, I’ve thought more about contemplative practices and leaning into the intersection of mindfulness, contemplation, and archives. I want to be able to navigate trauma with self-awareness of what I need, and what those around me—family, friends, colleagues–need as well.   

Lauren: I have struggled with the intersection of personal and professional in the aftermath of the shooting. As University Archivist, I preserve the history of UVA and recognize that this is now a part of our story. I initially felt overwhelmed at the thought of collecting on the shooting. However, in conversations with my colleagues I realized that there is no rush. We can give space for the UVA community, including ourselves, to grieve and process the shooting. Now that we are beginning to collect, I find myself reflecting on responsible collecting. How do we capture this moment in time in a meaningful and respectful way? What do we collect and when? I want people to know that Lavel, Devin, and D’Sean will not be forgotten; I also want people to know that Michael’s and Marlee’s injuries will not be forgotten either. My goal as an archivist is to preserve materials related to the shooting so that people in 2052 and 2082 will be able to learn more about what happened through primary resources. It is my hope that documenting a tragic event like this shooting can be an act of healing for some folks now and a resource for the future. 

Since August 11 and 12, 2017, we have, with intention, enacted “care work” in the archives and that has led to tempering a rush to collect this time. Collections that document tragic events can cause vicarious trauma or retraumatize the staff who work on them as well as the people who use them. Making requests of a community in pain and processing grief feels intrusive and unsupportive. Add the fact that the impact on the Black community in Charlottesville is greater than on any other community, layer that with the common extractive practices of archival collecting, and we have a situation where we archivists have an opportunity to change the narrative of our relationships with the community by making compassion our guiding principle. 

We ask ourselves; do we know how to grieve as a community? Perhaps archiving the process of grief can be integral to the healing process. 

Photo of UVA employee Dashan Axson-Lawrence

Dashan Axson-Lawrence, photo provided by contributor

Dashan Axson-Lawrence, Athletics Academic Coordinator at the University of Virginia

Almost every Sunday, I am on campus doing programming for my student-athletes, but this evening [11/13/22] I was able to go home early and go to bed. Every night before I go to sleep, I put my phone on “Do Not Disturb” because if I do not, I will get calls from some of my students (athletes). When I finally woke up, I saw that I had missed calls from my mom. When I finally answered, she called me frantic, asking where I was. I told her that I was home in bed and just waking up. She said, “Thank goodness,” and in the same breath, she told me that there was a shooting on campus. When I looked at my email, I saw all the alerts about the incident. As the news broke, like many others, I watched the coverage and scrolled on social media, trying to get as much information as possible. However, I wish I did not go on social media because it gave me the news of all the individuals impacted and whether they made it. That was the worst night of my life because I could not protect or help the people I cared so deeply about. When I found out that some of my football players were involved and hurt, I felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt and concern because I did not know how it was or what their status was. All I knew was that my life would be changed forever. 

This situation has significantly impacted me. Currently, I work as an Athletic Academic Coordinator with UVA athletes, specifically with UVA football and Olympic sports. Also, I worked closely with the young men that lost their lives, which hurt me to the core.

The most important thing that I would want Charlottesville residents to know in 2052 and 2082 is that this situation was a terrible thing that impacted the University of Virginia and the Charlottesville community. As horrific as this incident was, it brought us closer as a community. Personally, this incident taught me that life is too short and not to take it for granted. As we are now a couple of weeks removed from the incident I have come to the point that I am tired of losing Black bodies, more importantly Black boys to senseless violence and as long as I am on this earth, I will fight to make sure that we do a better job protecting our Black boys from such senseless violence because this needs to stop. The passing of these young men has shown me the importance of living my life without regret and to the fullest. Most importantly, it reminds me of the quote by Angela Davis “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change… I am changing the things I cannot accept.

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