CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — As officials took down crime scene tape surrounding the parking garage and towed away the bus where three University of Virginia football players were fatally shot and two other students were wounded, new signs marking the tragedy were being placed around campus.
At fraternity and sorority houses steps away from the crime scene, students spray-painted “UVA Strong” and “Virginia Strong” along with the names and numbers of D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler onto banners and displayed them. Luke Stone, 21, a management and marketing major, said like, in other communities struck by tragedy, the messages were meant to be something to rally around.
“It’s been a tough day for a lot of people,” Stone said, standing in front of a “Cville Strong” banner Monday afternoon. “Just a sad, tough day for all of us.”
As the community came together to grieve at prayer services and public vigils Monday, the tragedy left some feeling unsafe and unsettled. But many expressed hope that members of the Charlottesville community will support each other as they have in the past.
Stone said some of his fraternity brothers barricaded the front, back, and bedroom doors as police searched for the suspect. He remembered feeling “pretty unsettled” even after the 12-hour lockdown was lifted Monday just before police announced the suspected shooter, former UVA football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., had been arrested.
“I don’t really know that it had it set in by that point,” he said. “I honestly don’t think it has.”
‘Shook me to my core’
Down the street from Stone, Bobby Butcher and his fraternity brothers were inspired to craft a similar banner. Butcher, a third-year student who spent the night sheltering in place at the library, told reporters the experience still feels “very surreal.”
“We thought, you know, this is the least that we could do,” he said of the sign. “When you have an event that takes place like this, where the entire community has to kind of come together and be one and support each other, you know, that’s something that we want to be a part of.”
As a survivor of gun violence, the shooting was particularly painful for Alexandra Rainsbury. Rainsbury, 21, who studies history and biology, said that while she has recovered physically, she still deals with the trauma of being struck by a stray bullet at Boylen Heights, a bar near campus.
Although she is relieved the suspected gunman was arrested in the football players’ deaths, Rainsbury said learning there was a shooting on campus “shook me to my core.”
“I don’t really feel safe,” she said. “It’s not like a Charlottesville problem or a UVA problem. It’s a national problem.”
The killings occurred the same day four University of Idaho students were found dead near campus. The violence on college campuses comes after a series of mass shootings set the nation on edge this year, including deadly rampages at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, a Fourth of July parade near Chicago, and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Sunday’s shooting is not the first time the university has been struck by violence. In August 2017, white supremacists marched across campus during the Unite the Right rally and neo-Nazi James Fields later drove his car into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer.
Thomas Bakewell, 19, said visiting the site of the shooting Monday morning was more somber and more difficult than he expected. But the computer science major from Dallas said the response from the community made him glad he transferred to the university last year.
“It sounds kind of odd but I feel like in times like these I feel more appreciative and more glad that I’m here,” Bakewell said. “The community will come together over this.”
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As the sun set Monday, more than a hundred people gathered for a prayer service on campus followed by a silent candlelight vigil on the university’s south lawn that drew hundreds more.
St. Paul’s Memorial Church, which serves both UVA students and the wider Charlottesville community, opened its doors to provide “a place of comfort and safety for those who need it,” said the Rev. William Peyton. During the service, participants prayed for the victims, the survivors, and “for all whose lives are forever change and broken by the scourge of gun violence.”
Peyton, 52, noted the community is not only dealing with Sunday’s shooting but other instances of gun violence in Charlottesville and across the country.
“This is an ongoing tragedy and it’s not clear to any of us when it’s going to end,” he said.
As night fell, mourners sat in silent reflection for nearly an hour, embraced one another, and raised candles and cell phone flashlights in unison.
Calls for community support
Classes will be canceled again Tuesday as students and school officials plan a universitywide vigil. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who is facing calls for stricter gun control laws, ordered flags lowered to half-staff Tuesday in respect and memory of the victims, their families, and the Charlottesville community.
Aaron Famui, a senior and football player, remembered his teammates Monday as “great men” and “great young athletes” and echoed his fellow students’ calls for support from the community.
“We’ve just got to stay together and uplift each other and keep their families in prayers,” said “That’s all we can do right now.”
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Contributing: Megan Smith, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg