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The University of Virginia campus is mourning the loss of three students shot and killed Sunday night, reportedly by a classmate, who also injured two other students.
The alleged assailant, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, was arrested following an hours-long search and has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder. Officials said Monday that those charges could be amended, depending on the results of the investigation.
“This is an unimaginably sad day for our community,” UVA president Jim Ryan said during a press conference. “The entire university community is grieving this morning. My heart is broken for the victims.”
Ryan said sophomore Devin Chandler, junior Lavel Davis Jr. and senior D’Sean Perry were killed in the shooting Sunday night. All three were members of the University of Virginia football team. One of the surviving victims also is a member of the team, The Washington Post reported. Jones, who was on the team roster in 2018, was on the radar of university officials, who had received and investigated a report of Jones having a gun.
The teammates of the three students killed, along with professors and coaches, shared tributes on social media and in interviews.
Jack Hamilton, an American studies and media studies professor, said he taught Chandler and Davis. He wrote in a widely shared thread on Twitter that Chandler, a transfer student, made a point to come to office hours to ask about how things worked at UVA. Davis made an effort to get to know students who weren’t involved in sports, which Hamilton said wasn’t always the case with star athletes.
“Anyways I am just stunned and devastated and completely at a loss but wanted to say all this because they were great people with truly limitless futures and they should still be here,” he wrote. “It breaks my heart.”
Tony Elliott, head football coach of the UVA Cavaliers, said in a statement that the three men were “called away too soon.”
“We are all fortunate to have them be a part of our lives,” Elliott said. “They touched us, inspired us and worked incredibly hard as representatives of our program, university and community. Rest in peace, young men.”
The team has not yet decided whether it will play in a scheduled game this Saturday against Coastal Carolina University, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
All classes were canceled Monday and today, and university administrators said counseling services were being offered to students and staff. Thousands of students attended a vigil Monday evening on the campus.
Ryan, who choked up during the press conference, said Monday was “an extraordinarily difficult day” for the UVA community.
Ryan wasn’t the only college president dealing with a violent tragedy on campus Monday. The University of Idaho also canceled classes after four students were found dead in an off-campus apartment in the northern city of Moscow. The Moscow Police Department said the deaths were being investigated as homicides, although officers didn’t provide many other details. A department spokesperson said Sunday that investigators did not believe there was an active threat to the nearby community.
The New York Times reported Monday that a local official described the incident as “a crime of passion.” The students who died were identified as Ethan Chapin, a freshman; Xana Kernodle, a junior; Madison Mogen, a senior; and Kaylee Goncalves, a senior.
“My wife Gabriella and I are simply heartbroken,” Idaho president Scott Green wrote in an email sent campuswide. “Words cannot adequately describe the light these students brought to this world or ease the depth of suffering we feel at their passing under these tragic circumstances. No one feels that loss more than their families and friends.”
University of Idaho officials did not respond to requests for additional information.
At UVA, officials provided details about the shooting during an 11:00 a.m. media briefing, following an overnight investigation and search for the gunman.
University police said about 25 students were on a coach bus on their way back to Charlottesville late Sunday night following a class field trip to Washington, D.C., to see a play. When the bus pulled up near a campus parking garage shortly after 10:00 p.m., “someone amongst them chose to do an act of violence,” said Tim Longo, vice president for safety and security at UVA.
Police officers found Chandler and Perry dead inside the bus. Davis was taken to the University of Virginia Medical Center but died at the hospital.
Neither the class nor play were disclosed Monday, but officials said they were working to gather more information about the trip.
Shortly after the reports of a shooter, the university ordered students to shelter in place. That order was lifted nearly 12 hours later once law enforcement was sure the suspect was not on the campus.
During the press conference, Longo learned that the suspected gunman had been arrested.
“I need to take a moment to thank God and breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.
Jones was on the UVA football roster in 2018 but hasn’t been on the team for more than a year. He was on the university’s radar before Sunday’s shooting, Longo said.
Longo said the university’s threat assessment team received a report from a third party that Jones had a gun. The team reached out to Jones and talked to his roommate, who said he hadn’t seen a weapon. It wasn’t clear from Monday’s press conference whether the threat assessment team talked to Jones.
The information about Jones owning a gun was not provided in conjunction with any threats being made, and the university police department had no contact with Jones.
“Mr. Jones also had come to the attention of our threat assessment team because he was involved in a hazing investigation of some sort,” Longo said. “I don’t know the facts and circumstances of that investigation. I know that it was eventually closed due to witnesses that would not cooperate with the process.”
The sound of gunshots woke up Nikita Amin Sunday night. The fourth-year student could see the crime scene and police activity from her window.
She quickly checked her phone and found a message from UVA alerting her to an active attacker and ordering her to “RUN HIDE FIGHT.”
UVA Alert: ACTIVE ATTACKER firearm reported in area of Culbreth Road. RUN HIDE FIGHT— UVA Police Department (@UVAPolice) November 14, 2022
“It was terrifying to read the words ‘run hide fight’ from the official UVA alert,” she said. “It looks like something that would get sent in an indie dystopian horror movie. It was insane.”
The university also sent other alerts telling students to shelter in place, which Amin did. She turned her lights off and hunkered into her apartment.
“I was luckier than a lot of students that were in lockdown in public buildings.”
Videos shared on social media showed students crowded in hallways and lying on the floors of university buildings.
“More than 500 of them were sheltered in buildings throughout Grounds, studying in libraries, classrooms and other places,” Longo said, using the UVA nickname for the campus. “They’ve cooperated with the directive that they received, and we’re very grateful for that as well.”
Once the lockdown was lifted, students slowly started to make their way outside, but Amin said she wasn’t planning to go outside. In fact, she was weighing whether to drive back home for a bit.
“I think it helps to not be on Grounds. I just spent the past 12 hours sort of hiding in my closet,” she said. “Also to be with my family, who I know is super shaken up. They’re worried.”
‘A Tragic Reality’
S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, said that based on what officials said at the press conference and the information they had available, the situation was handled by the book.
“Now, anytime you have something catastrophic happen, it’s important to learn lessons from that, so there may be some new pages that need to be added to the book,” Carter said.
Carter said he would want to know what information the threat assessment team had access to in order to evaluate what lessons can be learned from the shooting and the university’s response.
“While serious crimes like shootings on campuses are rare, we always need to be prepared for something like this to happen,” Carter said. “That’s a tragic reality that we have to deal with. And there are systems in place … but there’s always room to learn lessons and to improve.”
Abigail Boyer, associate executive director for the Clery Center, which helps colleges and universities implement campus safety measures, said it’s important for institutions to provide support and counseling resources to the victims, other students and the broader community.
“When anybody’s navigating grief, it’s hard to even know what you need or how to access it,” she said. Reaching out and offering support would be valuable, she said.
More broadly, institutions can reassure students, parents, faculty and staff about the measures in place to protect the community and keep everyone as safe as possible.
“We choose a college or university, whether that’s to go to school or to work because we think it’s going to be a safe environment,” she said. “Any time something like this happens, it really shifts that belief about what safety is and what safety looks like."