CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The University of Virginia community mourned on Tuesday as new details emerged both about the three football players killed in a campus shooting this week and the criminal charges the suspect, a former player, faces.
“It feels like it’s a nightmare, to be honest with you. And I’m ready for somebody to pinch me and wake me up and say that this didn’t happen,” university head football coach Tony Elliott said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
University officials and police have said a student, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, joined a group of about two dozen others on a field trip Sunday from the Charlottesville campus to see a play in the nation’s capital, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) away. When their bus arrived back on campus, Jones opened fire, killing the three players and wounding two others, one of them also a football player, authorities said.
Ryan Lynch, a 19-year-old sophomore student on the trip, told Philadelphia TV station KYW the suspect pulled out a gun as they arrived back and pushed one of the now-deceased football players, stating: “You guys are always messing with me.”
“They just kept coming, more and more gunshots – just wouldn’t stop,” Lynch said of the shooting, adding the gunman then “just sort of walked or skipped off the bus.”
The shooting set off panic and a 12-hour campus lockdown amid a manhunt before Jones was captured Monday outside Richmond, the state capital.
University President Jim Ryan said Monday authorities did not have a “full understanding” of the motive or circumstances of the shooting. At Tuesday’s news conference with Elliott, athletics director Carla Williams said she couldn’t address anything related to the criminal investigation. Authorities have also not discussed the firearm or firearms used – what type, how many or where they were obtained.
Jones faces an initial court appearance Wednesday. The prosecutor, Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley, said by email Tuesday that besides previously announced second-degree murder and firearms charges, Jones faces two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges.
Online records did not list an attorney for Jones, who remains in custody. If he is financially eligible for court-appointed counsel, an attorney will be appointed Wednesday, Hingeley wrote, adding there also could be a preliminary bail review.
The university canceled classes Tuesday and made counselors and therapy dogs available as students visited temporary memorials on campus, leaving flowers or other remembrances. Classes were to resume Wednesday though the university said it wouldn’t require undergraduate students to complete any graded assignments or take exams before the Thanksgiving break.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin ordered flags lowered statewide and made a campus visit, leaving flowers near a memorial at the football stadium. He said he came to pay “deep respects and hopefully take a moment to support these families.”
“It’s beyond anything any parent can possibly imagine. And the first lady and I, our hearts are just broken for these families,” said Youngkin.
The dead were identified as Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.
Elliott said they were all “incredible young men with huge aspirations and extremely bright futures.” The coach said he and the players were now channeling their grief into celebrating the victims’ lives, adding, “We were able to transition from the pain to finding a little bit of joy in celebrating the lives of all of Lavel, D’Sean and Devin.”
A campus-wide event honoring the victims was in the works.
On Tuesday evening, a candlelight vigil was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and a “Service for Justice and Peace” at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville.
University Baptist’s Senior Minister Matthew Tennant urged action against gun violence, saying, “There’s got to be more than getting together in our houses of worship to pray after someone shoots a bunch of people.”
“When we fix what is wrong, when we work to put an end to gun violence, God will have worked through us,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Williams said she and the coach will consult with players and make a decision soon about Saturday’s home football game against Coastal Carolina.
“We’ll use our best judgment. It will be soon,” she said.
Jones was a member of the football team during the 2018 season, a one-semester walk-on, according to Williams. She said she didn’t believe his membership overlapped with any of the victims – or know if they had any interaction outside the class that took the field trip.
Jones’ father, Chris Jones Sr., told Richmond TV station WTVR he was in disbelief when police called him. “My heart goes out to their families. I don’t know what to say, except I’m sorry,” said Jones Sr. He could not immediately be reached by The Associated Press.
Jones’ mother, Margo Ellis, declined to be interviewed Tuesday when reached by AP. “There’s so much going on,” she said.
Jones drew the attention of the university’s threat-assessment team this fall in the context of a “potential hazing issue,” the university said in a statement.
During that review, university officials heard from a student that Jones commented about having a gun, though that student did not report Jones making any threat, the statement said. University officials investigated and ended up discovering Jones had previously been tried and convicted of a misdemeanor concealed weapons violation in 2021, which he had failed to report, according to the statement.
The school initially said it “escalated his case for disciplinary action” on Oct. 27. But a spokesman, Brian Coy, revised the timeline Tuesday night. He said that likely due to either a human or technical error, the report had not actually been transmitted to the University Judiciary Committee, a student-run body. The university said in a statement it was working to correct the error.
The killings come as the nation recoils from a string of mass shootings over six months. Those included an attack that killed 19 students and two teachers at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school; a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb that killed seven and wounded more than 30; and a shooting at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket that killed 10 people and wounded three.
The University of Virginia, the state’s flagship public university, has endured numerous high-profile tragedies this past decade, including the 2014 disappearance and murder of a student as well as violence inflicted by white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville for “Unite the Right” events in 2017.
“I think U.Va. has weathered a lot in the past. And I think we are an incredibly resilient community,” said Ellie Wilkie, a 21-year-old student who had sheltered in her room on the historic Lawn at the heart of the campus amid the lockdown.