The University of Virginia campus is the latest bastion of higher learning trying to make sense of the senseless killings of three UVA football players last week.
This is supposed to be the best time of year for college sports, a time when the calendar gods deliver the 2-for-1 fall special where you can catch an afternoon basketball game followed by a football tilt that same weekend, or vice-versa.
But on the University of Virginia’s campus, instead of hyped co-eds, you have a campus full of hurt, still trying to make sense of the senseless killings of three UVA football players by a former Cavaliers football player after all returned on a charter bus to campus following a class field trip on November 13.
Police have arrested former UVA football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., in connection with the shooting. He faces three charges of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, according to UVA Police Chief Timothy Longo Sr. Jones, a former UVA walk-on in 2018, also faces two counts of malicious wounding, each accompanied by a firearm charge.
College campuses have long been bastions of learning not only as it pertains to lessons of academia but also lessons in life. Sadly, some lessons are harder to accept, let alone comprehend, than others.
Emotions are understandably running high right now for the families of the three UVA football players—Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D'Sean Perry—who were killed in the shooting. They have every reason in the world to despise and hate the man who killed their loved ones.
And for those who were friends of the shooter, they too have strong feelings for what’s happening.
Their emotions are more in line with disbelief, many playing the “What did I miss?” game with themselves, trying to remember if there was a clue or inkling that something of this magnitude was going to happen. What all involved are experiencing is the complexity that comes with trying to make sense of the purpose behind the pain so many are feeling.
These were three young Black men who were living out their dreams of playing college football at one of the best public institutions of higher learning in the country.
No one knows if any would have gone on to enjoy the riches of being an NFL player. But if the worst-case scenario involves leaving Charlottesville, Virginia in four or five years with a UVA degree, that’s a victory.
But we’ll never know if that was indeed on the horizon, as family, friends and law enforcement officials still try to decipher the ‘why?’ of the pain inflicted upon this college campus and community.
Sadly, students being killed isn’t nearly as rare as it should be. In fact, there were four students stabbed to death on the University of Idaho campus on the same day of the UVA shootings.
When multiple shooting incidents occur, often this leads to increased attention paid to possible solutions based on the incident, rather than exploring the root of the problem.
However, data on school shootings nationally shows that they account for a small percentage of the shooting deaths among children and teens annually.
“These are terrible events,” James Fox, a professor at Northeastern University who oversees an extensive data source list of school shootings nationally, said in a recent interview. “But it’s important to combat the hysteria. Because when there is hype and hysteria, we tend to do things that are ill-advised.”
According to Everytown.org which touts itself as the “largest gun violence prevention organization” in the United States, 3,500 children and teens are school shooting victims annually. That number represents a small number of the 3 million students exposed to shootings per year.
UVA running back Mike Hollins was among the survivors who was shot by Jones. He was fortunate enough to survive the shooting. His mother, Brenda Hollins, spoke to CNN recently.
“My son, he has feeling, so hurting is good,” she said. “And so I’m trying to look at it in that aspect because ... I saw him yesterday ... he was up, he was walking. He was laughing, and I mean we had a good time, and then today he’s hurting. He’s back in bed, and I know it’s going to be up and down, and I’m grateful for that because with the pain ... he’s (still) with me.”
Brenda later told ESPN in a separate interview that she has forgiven Jones for the shooting.
"I already have," she said. "I had to in order to heal so I can help my son. I mean, I don't have a choice. I have to, and then I have to move on to help my baby."
Maybe coming to grips with what’s in the past in order to pave the way for healing in the future, is the lesson to be taken away from yet another group of young people being killed.
In the coming days, there will be finger-pointing as to why this happened and who should be at fault besides the gunman.
The torrential downpouring of support for the survivors will continue to flow in by way of news reports detailing the horrific experience as more witnesses come forward. And through those stories, we’ll feel the weight of empathy, embrace the need to do what Brenda Hollins has done and try to move on and succeed at this—until of course, it happens again.
And then it becomes yet another lesson that doesn’t need to be repeated.