The notifications from the University of Virginia began Sunday night and offered little information other than that shots had been fired in a parking lot.
It wasn’t until I received a three-word message that I realized something horrible had happened.
I saw the words “RUN HIDE FIGHT” in a subsequent email and my heart sank as I realized that my campus could soon be added to a long list of schools that became sites of mass shootings.
Additional notifications issued a shelter-in-place order as the search began for the suspect, who remained at large as of Monday morning.
As I’m sure was the case for many in college, my night was mostly sleepless. I spent it in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, checking in with friends and making a mental tally of who I had noticed in my new home of Charlottesville, Virginia, updating social media, monitoring police scanners, and scouring the media. communication looking for any developments
What we didn’t yet know was that students D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr., and Devin Chandler were shot to death on their way back from a field trip to Washington, DC, on Sunday, and that our community would be reeling as it tried to understand what happened.
At this point, almost a day later, we have more questions than answers about the shooting. Although we await more details from the police and university authorities, we know that there is nothing that can justify or explain the horror that we have experienced.
‘I don’t think the chapter has been written on this yet’
My friend Blaine Patrick Werner Jr., a 30-year-old doctoral student studying Buddhist modernities and working as a teaching assistant in an American studies class, saw the first alert about shooting in the Culbreth Road parking lot. Students regularly receive emails from public safety about incidents on and off the Charlottesville campus, and due to the lack of detail in the initial message, Blaine went to bed without much concern.
He woke up Monday morning to dozens of emails describing an armed and dangerous suspect and urging students to shelter in place. Officials had not released information about the victims at the time, but Blaine began to hear that they could have included soccer players.
“I have footballers in one of my sections, so I sent an email to both of them, the one who was still alive replied to me,” he told me.
That was how he found out that Devin had been murdered. His mind began to swirl with horrible thoughts of his student’s final moments and his last interactions, which included an email Devin had sent the week before he was killed saying he wouldn’t be able to make it to class.
It was an example of the courtesy and respect that Blaine said Devin showed throughout their time together. Devin was a student with a memorable smile, committed to his studies and friendly with his classmates.
“He’s the type of student I think any instructor would want to have in class,” Blaine said.
Devin had recently spoken about the two Halloween costumes he’s worn this year: Deadpool and T’Challa from Black Panther. That was just a few weeks ago, and now he and two other young men have left in a “devastating moment”.
It’s a dark day for UVA, but Blaine sees better days ahead.
“I don’t think the chapter has been written on this yet,” he said. “I believe the legacy of this event will not be the actions of a mindless gunman, but I hope it will be the coming together of the university community to support one another.”
‘Together, we will be strong’
Sunday began as a relatively quiet night for 64-year-old religious studies professor Charles Marsh. That is until he checked his phone shortly before 11:30 pm and saw a flood of alerts from the university that included the words “RUN HIDE FIGHT.”
It was a heartbreaking alert for Marsh, who sent an email and tweeted to his students to send their “fervent hopes for peace and security”. He urged them to text or call him without hesitation, an offer he said several accepted.
The conversations they had, confirming their safety with each other and sharing their fears and sorrows, were mutually beneficial.
“I guess my email was also a way of telling you that I need you as a teacher, right now, as much as you need me,” Marsh told me. “I really wanted to feel like we were all aware of each other’s presence and that the night would pass.”
This semester, Marsh is teaching a seminar on anxiety. This week’s session was supposed to focus on the effect of architecture on mental health, but Marsh said the shooting necessitates a conversation about anxiety and gun violence. It’s especially relevant to a class made up of members of Generation Z whose lives have been shaped by mass shootings.
“I think it’s a time to really listen to each other and build wisdom, and gosh, promise each other that we’re going to try to put an end to this madness,” he said.
Marsh acknowledged that the UVA grounds are marked by “great historical trauma,” including the University use of enslaved workers in the 19th century and the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in which torch-bearing white supremacists marched through the university grounds. The shooting is the latest grim addition to that story, but Marsh sees reason to be hopeful.
“I have a lot of confidence in our students and their strength, their resilience and their ingenuity,” Marsh said. “Together, we will be strong and we will be complete.”
‘We can change this’
The Rev. Adam Lawrence Dyer, 57, told me there is a part of him that is “unfortunately ready” for mass shootings right now.
Before beginning his doctoral program in religious studies at UVA, Adam served as chief minister at First Parish in Cambridge Unitarian Universalist and chaplain at Harvard University. He told me that his time in Cambridge was often spent helping parishioners and students cope with mass shootings, whether it was at a high school in Parkland, Florida, or a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Adam told me that the students he saw lived in a constant state of fear, a cultural reality that made him “angry and tearful” but not tired, despite the dizzying number of mass shootings that forever change countless lives in the United States. united every year. .
“In ministry, having spent so much time with people coming in and out of life, I can’t conceive of a shooting as just, ‘oh, another,’ I can’t.”
Even before the UVA shooting, Adam planned to post a blog post about gun violence, Spiritwellness. He wrote that the events of the night made the topic feel “even more close and relevant”.
The post attributes gun violence to being in an “era of disincarnation,” an era in which humans fail to recognize the attributes and value they inherently share simply by mutually existing in human bodies. This phenomenon, writes Adam, “is literally killing us all…one shot at a time.”
Solutions to gun violence may not be easy, but Adam believes they are within reach. For the sake of UVA students and all those whose lives have been changed by mass shootings over the years, we have to try.
“An entire student body now has a shooting as part of their lived experience, and that will never go away,” he said. “We can change this.”
keep the candles burning
After interviewing him for almost an hour, Adam turned around and asked how I was doing.
Our conversation took place before the university lifted shelter-in-place orders and announced that Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. had been arrested in connection with the shooting. The lack of information about the victims was disconcerting as Adam and I waited to find out if people we knew and loved were among those killed or injured.
I told him that it also reminded me of my experiences reporting on mass shootings in recent years. How in 2019 I covered the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas that left me unable to walk into a Walmart without thinking about the 23 people who were shot. About four weeks later, I returned to Texas to cover the Midland-Odessa mass shooting, which killed seven people and injured dozens more.
I told Adam that on every shot, my instinctive reaction has been to put my emotions aside because it didn’t affect me directly. I wasn’t the one who buried a family member in Texas, and I was out of town when the shots rang out in Charlottesville. I described it as feeling like I had no “right” to cry when so many others were much more affected.
But Adam reminded me that the excitement has to go somewhere. These incidents foster collective pain that we all need to be aware of and remember as we move forward with our individual lives.
“We take the time to feel, to cry, to be angry, to really, really go,” he said. “We keep a little light burning inside with each one, and you’d be surprised how much room there is to keep the candles burning.”
Adam is right. May we honor D’Sean, Lavel, Devin, and the countless others we have lost to gun violence as we choose to live embodied lives filled with love, community, and peace.
Lives that keep the candles burning.
BrieAnna Frank is a reporter for the USA TODAY fact-checking team and a student at the University of Virginia, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in religious studies.