U-Va. tragedy: Remembering the 3 football players killed in shooting

Football players, from left, Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D'Sean Perry were killed in a shooting at the University of Virginia on Sunday. (University of Virginia Athletics/AP)

A 6-foot-7 wide receiver whose height, speed and knack for catching long passes made him a formidable presence on the gridiron. A recent transfer who was taking another crack at football after starting his college career during the pandemic. A player who cited scripture on social media and was majoring in studio art.

Three University of Virginia students and members of the school’s football team — Lavel Davis Jr., Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry — were killed in a shooting Sunday night at a parking garage on the Charlottesville campus. Two other students were wounded.

The university identified another student, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., as the suspect. Police said Monday that Jones is in custody.

Here’s what we know about the Cavaliers killed in Charlottesville:

Lavel Davis Jr

Lavel Davis Jr. was tall and fast — a dynamic playmaker with a flair for breaking open games with acrobatic catches resulting in long gains.

The 20-year-old from Dorchester County, S.C. — an occasional starter at wide receiver — did not play in the Cavaliers’ past two games while in concussion protocol.

Davis last was on the field Oct. 29 during a loss to Miami, finishing with one reception for 47 yards.

Family members confirmed that Davis was fatally shot Sunday on campus.

“I wish it was me instead of him,” said Thaddeus Lavel Davis, his father. Lavel was his firstborn child.

“That’s my son,” he said. “I say I wish I was up there instead of him.”

Thaddeus Davis described his son as someone with a kind smile.

Kim Richardson, Davis’s aunt, said the boy whom the family called Tyler was a good child and never a troublemaker.

“He never bothered a soul,” she said. “He just wanted everyone happy.”

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After missing all of last season with a torn ACL suffered during spring practice, Davis was trying to show the team the path to victory — and inspire others.

“Looking from the outside in last year made me appreciate the leaders on the team,” Davis told reporters on the first day of training camp over the summer. “I’m trying to be one of those leaders. When things are going bad, even though it’s hard, try to pump positivity out; try to say: ‘Let’s keep going, guys. We got this.’”

Davis attended Woodland High School in Dorchester, S.C., before moving to Charlottesville. Tydles Sibert, the high school’s athletic director, said Davis made the varsity football and basketball teams in ninth grade. He described Davis as a “born leader.”

“Lavel was an outstanding man,” Sibert said. “High character and integrity, very intelligent and well-spoken. He was a God-fearing Christian. Everything you look for in a student-athlete and a person.”

Jack Hamilton, a professor at U-Va., said Davis was enrolled in his 25-person course this fall called “Race and Sound in American Culture.” He said Davis shook his hand after the first class — an introduction that gave Hamilton an immediate impression of the student’s character.

Going back to class after Davis’s death will be painful, he said.

“There’s just going to be a lot of grieving around the community, but especially in the classes that these students were in,” Hamilton said. “It’s kind of unimaginable. It’s not something that I ever expected to have to confront as a professor.”

Devin Chandler

Devin Chandler “lit up the room with his bright, radiant smile and personality,” his mother, Dalayna Chandler, said in a statement shared on social media.

“He loved to sing, dance, and of course play football,” she said, adding that he hoped to play in the NFL and inspired others to dream big. “He was passionate about helping people and never shied away from working hard on the football field and in the classroom.”

At the U-Va. memorial service, fellow players reflected on fond moments with Chandler.

“I think dancing bonded us together, because you had better rhythm than me,” said sophomore linebacker Lorenz Terry. “I love you, bro. For real.”

Cody Brown, another sophomore linebacker who spoke at the service, recalled sitting in the university’s Scott Stadium, talking about football and life, and having long conversations about why they put in the work that football required. “You said you were going to do it for your family, your mom, for everything they’ve done for you,” he said, choking up.

Chandler sometimes slept at the athletic training center, so he could be up early and start catching passes to get better, Brown said.

“Your joy for life is contagious, and you made everyone around you happy. You could find humor in every situation, even if it was something you should have kept to yourself,” Brown said. “Dev, we were fortunate and blessed enough for you to be in our lives, and the impact you left on us is everlasting.”

Chandler arrived at the University of Wisconsin at Madison as a freshman wide receiver in 2020. Alvis Whitted, the team’s wide receiver coach, remembered Chandler as an “exceptional” player and an “all-around good guy who had a smile that would light up any room.”

Whitted learned that Chandler, 20, was killed after hearing about the shooting and telephoning Chandler’s uncle.

“All of our kids are devastated,” Whitted said. “He was so full of life. So full of energy. … He was a great kid.”

Chandler had multiple challenges as a player, Whitted recalled. A junior from Huntersville, N.C., he was away from home, playing during a pandemic-shortened season unlike any other.

Still, according to Whitted, Chandler had a lasting impact on his former teammates and coaches. Although he played during a difficult time, he had “great energy” and made people laugh.

“It was unchartered waters for everybody. It was difficult to try and navigate playing football when people were getting sick, dying and passing away,” Whitted said. “He was part of our family. He was a really good teammate. He was a baby trying to find his way.”

D’Sean Perry

D’Sean Perry, a 22-year-old linebacker and studio art major from Miami, cited a passage from the Bible on his Instagram page — Philippians 4:6, sometimes translated as “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

On Twitter, he displayed a painting of a congregation with celebrants’ arms raised. One recent message he retweeted read: “I want my whole squad to succeed. Not just me. All of us.”

His parents, Sean and Happy Perry, described their son in a statement as “a loving, giving, caring, God-fearing young man who was full of life and potential, and who made his family proud.”

Football and art were his passions, they said, “but the love that he had for his family, friends and his community was proven time and time again through his candid dedication.”

Michael Haggard, an attorney speaking for Perry’s family, said in an interview that he met Perry through football. When his own son began playing football at Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, Perry was a much older student on the team.

“To all the kids, D’Sean was just the greatest big brother in the world … He took a tremendous amount of kids under his wing,” Haggard said.

He had a huge impact on them, Haggard said, teaching them not only what they had to do on the field, but more importantly what they had to do in the classroom and as a leader.

Beyond his sports teams, Haggard said, Perry would reach out to loners at school and say, “Hey, come eat lunch with us!”

Matteo Uccelli, 22, who went to Gulliver with Perry, said he was always someone he looked up to, “in school, as a person, on the field.” He was one of the strongest, most powerful people he has ever met, Uccelli said in a phone interview.

He was religious. He was quiet. “He was a friend of everyone. Everyone loved him,” Uccelli said. When Perry walked into the room, “you’re ready to laugh. You’re ready to smile.”

Earl Sims Jr., the head football coach at Gulliver Prep, coached him for years and said he was like a son to him.

“D’Sean was a delightful, respectful, hard-working person who was one of the best overall young men our community has had to offer,” Sims said, fighting back tears as he spoke at a news conference honoring Perry.

He read from a piece that Perry had written in high school, in which Perry described the realization that younger students looked up to him, and the importance of helping others just as he had been helped. “I know my parents have done their all to get me into this school and give me everything that I have today,” Perry wrote, and he vowed to give back. “All I want to do is make the city that I’m from proud.”

Haggard said Perry, whose mother is a postal worker and whose father worked in corrections, had hoped to play for the NFL and planned to get a master’s degree.

“He had made it,” Haggard said at the news conference Wednesday. “He was at one of the greatest schools in the country, going to class, a great student-athlete. And this is how the story ends.”

Virginia football coach Tony Elliott addressed players in a team meeting at the football facility about 10:45 a.m. Monday, shortly after the campus shelter-in-place order was 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 a statement through the school’s athletic department. “These were incredible young men with huge aspirations and extremely bright futures. Our hearts ache for their families, their classmates and their friends.”

Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams issued a statement that read in part: “We lost three talented and bright young men. We will never see what their impact on the world would have been, but we will never forget their impact on us. I miss Lavel, D’Sean and Devin. I pray for peace, comfort and hope for their parents and loved ones.”

The University of Virginia said it would host “a space for healing” Thursday night for students in mourning. Hamilton, the professor who knew Davis, said the players should be remembered as “the full human beings and the great people that they were.”

“It just feels so senseless,” he said. “It feels so unfair.”

Justin Wm. Moyer, Barry Svrluga, Monika Mathur, Razzan Nakhlawi and Jennifer Jenkins 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.