Thousands of students gathered on the University of Virginia's South Lawn for a silent vigil honoring their three classmates. (Justin Ide/for The Washington Post)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Em Gunter, 19, was watching a biology lecture on a computer in her University of Virginia dorm room Sunday night when she heard three loud bangs. She looked over at her friend and said, “Was that gunfire?”

Then she heard three more shots. The friends were gripped by terror that would soon sweep across the campus of the prestigious university, forcing students to barricade their dorm rooms, hide in closets and hunker down in libraries.

A short distance away, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., a 22-year-old student and former university football player, had allegedly opened fire on a bus full of students who had just returned from a field trip to see a play in D.C., leaving three dead and two injured, authorities said.

At least four of the victims were U-Va. football players. University police officers who rushed to the scene found the bodies of wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. and linebacker D’Sean Perry on the bus, authorities said. Wide receiver Devin Chandler was rushed to the hospital, where he later died.

Family members said running back Michael Hollins Jr. was shot in the back but is alive. A fifth unidentified victim also survived and was taken to the hospital.

Jones had fled the scene by the time police arrived, authorities said, prompting a massive search that lasted 12 hours as the campus was put under a shelter-in-place order. He was taken into custody about 80 miles away in Henrico County, just north of Richmond, around 11 a.m. Monday.

The motive for the shooting remains under investigation, and the relationship between Jones and victims is unclear. But Jones was on the radar of university officials, and the university had referred his case for disciplinary action at the time of the shooting.

Suspected shooter scrutinized by school threat assessment team, officials say

Jones was a freshman on the football team in 2018 but did not appear in any games, according to a U-Va. sports site. He had previously played linebacker and running back at Petersburg High School in Virginia and had overcome a difficult childhood in Richmond public housing complexes, according to a 2018 Richmond Times-Dispatch profile.

“This is an unimaginably sad day for our community,” U-Va. President James E. Ryan said at a news conference. “My heart is broken for the victims and their families.”

The incident began around 10:30 p.m. Sunday, when officers were called to the scene near a parking garage on Culbreth Road.

Michael Hollins Sr., father of Michael Hollins Jr., said officials told him that the alleged shooter carried a gun on the bus while on the field trip and opened fire when they returned to campus. Timothy J. Longo Sr., the university police chief, said the students had spent the day enjoying the trip and eating a meal together.

The elder Hollins said he was at work as a city bus inspector in Fairfax, Va., when just before midnight he got an urgent call that his son had been a victim in the shooting. The father hopped in his car and sped to Charlottesville, he said, arriving just before 2 a.m. Monday.

His son had been shot in the back, the bullet lodged in his stomach. Hollins said his son was in “stable” condition and intubated, as of Monday morning. He said his son, lying in the hospital bed, recognized his voice and squeezed his hand.

“The doctors said he’s going to recover,” Hollins said. “They said because of his age and physical condition, he’s doing exceptionally well.”

Devin Chandler played on the University of Wisconsin at Madison football team as a freshman, before transferring to U-Va. Alvis Whitted, a coach for Wisconsin, remembered Chandler as not just an “exceptional” wide receiver, but also as an “all-around good guy.”

“All of our kids are devastated,” Whitted said. “He was so full of life, so full of energy. Always had a smile on his face. He was a great kid. He came from a really good family.”

Thaddeus Davis, the father of 20-year-old Lavel Davis, said his son was a wide receiver on the football team.

“I wish it was me instead of him,” Thaddeus Davis said. “That’s my son. I say I wish I was up there instead of him.”

U-Va. spokesman Brian Coy said in a statement that a student told school officials on Sept. 15 that Jones had made a comment about possessing a gun as administrators were investigating a possible hazing issue. During an investigation by the university, Coy said they learned he had been convicted of a misdemeanor concealed weapons violation in 2021, which he did not report to the university as required by school rules. School officials initially said he was charged in Henrico County, but the Washington Post later found the case occurred in Chesterfield County.

Jones repeatedly refused to cooperate with university officials, and on Oct. 27, the school’s threat-assessment team escalated his case for disciplinary action. It was pending at the time of the shooting.

A family member at Jones’s mother’s house said Jones had been bullied for months. “It was just bullying. He just got fed up. It was too many bullies, and nobody was listening,” the person said. “He had nowhere to go, he had nobody to talk to, so he finally gave up. And that’s life, right? Everybody’s got their breaking point.”

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When is something a mass killing?
The Washington Post uses the term mass killing to describe any event in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, are killed by gunfire.
The Post generally only uses the term mass shooting when we’re citing an organization such as the Gun Violence Archive whose definition differs from ours. The GVA defines a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, are injured or killed by gunfire, including events with no fatalities.
Are these events becoming more common?
In 2022, there were 647 mass shootings (here are the events in 2023 so far.). In 2021, 2020 and 2019, there were 690, 610 and 417, respectively. Before that, the Gun Violence Archive tracked fewer than 400 a year since 2014. Most gun deaths continue to be from suicides and homicides, with men making up the majority of both perpetrators and victims.
How to stay safe in a mass shooting
Every situation is different, but experts advise that you try to stay down, small and out of sight; move away from the gunfire as quickly as is safe; and hide behind a wall if possible.
Where to find support
News of mass killings can be upsetting, especially if you are dealing with violence-related trauma. But help is available. You can call or text 988 for the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline if you’re experiencing any kind of crisis (it’s not only for suicidal thoughts). Here are more resources.


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Remembering the three football players who were killed at U-Va.

Longo said emergency alerts were sent to students immediately after the shooting, announcing an active shooter and that the campus was being locked down.

“The second we all got that message that there was an active shooter, my phone flooded with messages,” said Eva Surovell, 21, of Alexandria, Va., who is editor in chief of the Cavalier Daily student newspaper, while the shelter-in-place order was still in effect.

Ozzie Alam, Oybek Askarov and Aaron Stackpole were packed into a friend’s apartment Sunday night, half finishing statistics homework and half hanging out, when their phones lit up.

It was the school emergency notification system telling them that shots had been fired nearby. At first, the 19-year-old sophomores thought it was another incident with a BB gun, which they said had been relatively common this year. But then they got a notification that said: “ACTIVE ATTACKER … RUN HIDE FIGHT.”

They panicked.

“We low-key secured weapons,” Stackpole said.

He grabbed a belt. Alam grabbed a print of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” The friends pushed couches against the door as barricades.

A few minutes later, their phones lit up again. This time it was Yik Yak, an anonymous blogging app used by students at U-Va. It said the shooter may have stopped by an apartment building — the same one they were in, three floors down. They looked out the window and saw police lights flashing.

The friends slept there that night, two on a couch and one on the floor. By the time they woke up, the suspect, who they later learned was a fellow student, had still not been caught.

Danielle Werchowsky of Arlington, whose son is a student at U-Va., said Monday morning: “U-Va. parents are glued to our social media right now. … Parents are all on edge.” She said she urged her son in a phone call to turn off the lights in his apartment and stay away from windows.

U-Va. classes and a basketball game scheduled for Monday were canceled as police searched the campus building by building. Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County School District schools were also closed.

The campus was desolate early Monday. Nearby, a sign taped to the door of Bodo’s Bagels, a popular breakfast spot, read: “Due to on-going events at UVA, our location is closed until further notice.”

The lockdown was not lifted until about 10:30 a.m., shortly before authorities announced Jones had been taken into custody. Jones is facing three counts, each of second-degree murder and commission of a felony with a firearm. He was being held in Henrico County on Monday.

Virginia football coach Tony Elliott addressed players in a team meeting at the football facility shortly after the shelter-in-place order had been lifted.

“I cannot find the words to express the devastation and heartache that our team is feeling today after the tragic events last night that resulted in the deaths of Lavel, D’Sean and Devin, and the others who were injured,” Elliott said in statement. “These were incredible young men with huge aspirations and extremely bright futures.”

The White House released a statement saying President Biden and first lady Jill Biden were mourning with U-Va.

“Our deepest condolences are with the countless families, friends, and neighbors grieving for those killed as well as those injured in this senseless shooting,” the statement read.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) called the shooting a “horrific tragedy” while speaking at a tourism news conference Monday morning.

“There were lives lost and families changed forever,” Youngkin said. “I just ask everyone this morning to lift up these families, the entire community, in prayer.”

U-Va. officials canceled classes Tuesday and said they were planning a university-wide vigil. Late Monday afternoon, members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity had painted a banner and strung it across the top of their house that read “VIRGINIA STRONG.”

Nicolas West, a 20-year-old sophomore, was on his way back from an ultimate Frisbee tournament in Georgia when he got the news of the shooting. Driving with his teammates, he and his friends realized that on any other Sunday night, they probably would have been practicing on the field right next to the parking garage where the shooting took place.

West and his team were supposed to come back to campus Sunday night. Instead, they pulled over at a parent’s house about 10 minutes away. The dozens of teammates packed into a single living room, not one having showered since their game.

The room was quiet for hours, West said, with the only sounds coming from teammates who had news about the shooting. The sophomore was supposed to be in statistics class on Monday morning. Instead, with classes canceled, West was on his way to find his girlfriend.

“I’m really, really shaken up,” West said, looking at the mostly empty street around him. “Campus doesn’t feel the same.”

Dana Hedgpeth, Martin Weil, Peter Hermann, Gene Wang, Katie Mettler, Salvador Rizzo, Olivia Diaz, Laura Vozzella, Alice Crites, Cate Brown, Jennifer Jenkins, Razzan Nakhlawi and Monika Mathur contributed to this report.

Mass shooting at the University of Virginia

The latest: A month after the U-VA. shooting, the parents of D’Sean Perry have questions about why the violence was not prevented.

What do we know about the shooting? A witness revealed new details about the U-Va. shooting, where a gunman opened fire on bus full of students, authorities confirmed. Additionally, the University of Virginia failed to report the suspected shooter to a student-run judiciary committee.

Who are the shooting victims? Officials identified the deceased victims as U-Va. football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis and D’Sean Perry.

Who is accused of the UVA shooting? 23-year-old student Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. is the accused gunman in the U-Va. mass shooting. What was U-Va. shooting suspect’s motive? In an initial court appearance, a prosecutor claims that suspect Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. fired at a sleeping football player.