This Saturday, the U.Va. and Charlottesville communities came together to celebrate the lives of Lavel Davis Jr., Davin Chandler, and D’Sean Perry, three football players who were fatally shot this past Sunday. The memorial took place at John Paul Jones Arena, with overflow seating in Klöckner Stadium and in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. The event was also live streamed and has been viewed by over 45 thousand people. For those unable to watch live, the footage has been made available on Facebook.
Upon arrival, attendees were given programs with the names, years, and photos of Davis, Chandler, and Perry. They were also given orange ribbons to put on in solidarity, as well as blue, white, and orange bracelets, which would later be used to light up the arena.
Preceding the ceremony, a compilation of photos was displayed while various musical groups performed. This included appearances by the Virginia Gentlemen, the University Singers, and the MLK Community Choir.
Governor Glenn Youngkin, Senator Tim Kaine, Rector Whitt Clement, and more were in attendance. As the families of the victims entered, visitors were asked to stand in respect.
University President Jim Ryan addressed the audience several times throughout the duration of the memorial service, first saying, “Our speakers and performers today will help to shed a light on the lives of Devin, Lavel, and D’Sean, and I hope that we can take a measure of solace in being together to remember and honor them, along with Mike and Marlee. As I’ve said before, shared grief is a powerful reminder that it is our bonds with each other and with the common community, that matter more than our perceived differences and give us the strength to endure.”
Following, Rector Whitt Clement spoke briefly to the audience stating, “Each of us is here today as part of our university family. To share our grief with each other. To console one another. But also to start the healing of our beloved university.” Clement then joined President Ryan, sitting with others on the stage.
The memorial featured multiple prayers and liturgical allusions, with the first being an opening prayer given by football player and third-year Justin Duenkel. As heads bowed for the first of many times during this ceremony, Duenkel asked for members of the community to hold hands and join together in prayer for Davis, Chandler, and Perry.
Third-year Hunter Stewart, a linebacker for the U.Va. football team, came forward with three fellow students to read a poem aloud to the audience. Before orating, Stewart spoke to the crowd stating, “D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr., and Devin Chandler, were not only members of the football team here at the University but vibrant members of the community. Their lights shine all across our Grounds and beyond. These young mens are brothers, sons, best friends, classmates, leaders, and so much more. Their impact on all of us has not ended. We will always endure.”
Stewart would go on to read “Life is Fine,” by Langston Hughes, a poem which talks of seeing the beauty in life despite struggles and hardships.
Director of Athletics Carla Williams approached the podium to speak on her experiences over the past few days, her fond memories of Davis, Chandler, and Perry, as well as sharing a bible verse with the audience. Williams first let the audience know about the status of Mike Hollins and Marlee Morgan, victims of Sunday’s mass shooting who were injured, assuring community members that they were healing well. Hollins continues to recover in Charlottesville while Morgan has gone home to recover amongst family members.
Williams likewise announced, “We are also mindful of and in prayer for the other students who were on that bus as well as the faculty member and the bus driver. We know the impact of that night is deep and painful. May you continue to receive healing and comfort.”
After speaking on her family stories of the victims, Devin the Dancing Machine, Lavel who always sat in the first pew, and D’Sean the superhero, she said, “We are better, and we will do better, because of Devin, Lavel, and D’Sean. To the families, we love your sons. We love your sons. And we will make sure that their legacy never fades at the University of Virginia.”
Jay James, host of the memorial, brought on stage CeCe Winans, a multi Grammy-award winning gospel singer, who heard of the University’s tragic news and reached out to help. Winans would go on to perform “Goodness of God.”
Before reflections on the lives of Davis, Chandler, and Perry began, President Ryan came to the podium once again to give his own reflection. While acknowledging he did not personally know the victims, he confessed his “heart both swells and breaks,” as he stood among the memorial’s audience. Recounting his own encounters with great loss and great grief, he talked directly to the victims’ families, stating simply with great sincerity “I am so very sorry.”
Ryan would go on to talk about the victims saying, “When I saw players like Devin, Lavel, and D’Sean, I saw who I wanted to be when I was growing up. Powerful, fast, talented, courageous, and graceful all at once. Dazzling. They were strong young men, but they were also good kids.” He continued on, recalling excerpts from William Wordsworth’s “Splendor in the Grass” and Robert Francis’ “Summons,” expressing how pieces of these poems conveyed his grief to the victim’s families and the U.Va. and Charlottesville communities.
He ended his reflection saying, “They would want you, when you are ready, to dance and love and sing once again, and to do so not because you’ve forgotten them. Devin, Lavel, and D’Sean will never be forgotten. Dance and sing and love again when you are ready because you remember them and the light that they shared with all of us.”
Many football players took to the stage, each sharing personal and heartfelt memories of their times with Davis, Chander, and Perry. From times of joy to times of hardship, players conveyed to the audience that the victims had been with them through it all. Each recollected that these fallen players shined brightly and must be remembered.
Head Football Coach Tony Elliott closed with a final reflection, recalling moments with each player and reading aloud a bible verse to the audience. Elliott chose to share First Corinthians, Chapter 15, Verse 41 (1:15:41), with the numbers corresponding to Davis, Chandler, and Perry’s jersey numbers respectively.
“The numbers alone bring me peace,” Elliott said. “Chapter one, First Corinthians one, chapter 15, verse 41. The text in the passage reads as this… ‘The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.’ I also find peace in knowing how beautiful the splendor of these three stars that we celebrate today is.”
The memorial concluded following a closing prayer and moment of silence and solidarity. Lights were dimmed as audience members turned on their bracelets, lighting up the arena with stars of orange, blue, and white. As the lights returned, attendees were asked to stand once again in respect, allowing the victims’ families and football team, coaches, and staff to leave first. A recessional followed, featuring the U.Va. Cavalier Marching Band.
As parting words, Elliott said, “Lavel, Devin, D’Sean, I am so looking forward to the strength, motivation, and courage and love that you all will provide as we triumph in the days ahead. My young kings, may you celebrate in paradise, and we will celebrate on this side each and every day with the light of your stars. Devin, D’Sean, Lavel, I love you, I’ll see you again. Amen.”
To view the memorial please follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?ref=external&v=648746376745397