Virginia football players honored in memorial service

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia players remembered teammates Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry during a memorial service Saturday, sharing stories and shedding tears — and letting the world know how much they would dedicate to the rest of her life in memory.

With the Chandler, Davis and Perry families seated in the front row, and the entire football team in the rows behind, the memorial was an opportunity not only to commemorate all three, but to, in the words of University President Jim Ryan speak, “to begin the healing of our beloved university.”

Chandler, Davis and Perry were shot dead on a charter bus last Sunday after returning from a school field trip, devastating both the football team and the entire Charlottesville community. Running back Mike Hollins was shot and remains in the hospital. A fifth student, Marlee Morgan, was shot and is recovering at home with her family.

Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. was charged with triple second-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony. Prosecutors have also charged him with two counts of malicious assault and additional weapons-related charges in connection with the shooting of Hollins and Morgan. He is being held without bail in a Charlottesville jail.

No one at the memorial mentioned how Chandler, Davis and Perry died. Rather, they focused on their way of life.

Pictures of all three players were shown on stage, along with sporting director Carla Williams, coach Tony Elliott, Ryan and Virginia Rector Whitt Clement. The MLK Community Choir performed and Grammy Award-winning gospel singer CeCe Winans sang “Goodness of God.”

Williams told stories her families told her — Chandler, who was known to his family as “Devin the Dancing Machine.” His uncle showed her a video of 10-year-old Devin coming in for track practice early, getting out of the car and “progressing to having a one-kid dance in the parking lot. His rhythm was suspect, but his confidence was never in doubt.”

Whenever Davis came home, he wanted his grandmother to cook for him.

“He especially loved the 18 scrambled eggs she would make for him,” Williams said.

As for D’Sean, when he was 6 years old he wanted to be a red Power Ranger for Halloween. His parents bought him his costume, and he didn’t take it off until after Thanksgiving – which caused a giggle from the 9,075 viewers, including former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips and a large contingent of former Virginia football players, including Chris Long and Heath Miller.

Video montages of each player with highlights and interviews were shown before the players took the stage to say a few words about their fallen teammates. The memorial service was the first opportunity for players to speak publicly about their teammates.

Virginia linebacker Chico Bennett Jr. paused several times as he spoke about Davis, his big smile and the way he fiercely defended his side in any argument.

“The sorrow of the loss, the heartbreak, the loss will never go away,” Bennett said. “Now we’re just learning how to deal with it. But instead of being sad I will remember the smile and agree with you and continue to pursue our dreams together of graduating and continuing our football career. Oh what I would give for that.” That smile from you, just one more time. Unfortunately I can’t, but I know you’re smiling up there and to the extent that I’ll be doing the same down here. I love you little brother.”

Others told fun stories to honor their memories. Cornerback Elijah Gaines described Davis’ love for his hometown of Ridgeville, SC, a small community less than an hour from Charleston. Gaines came to Virginia from New York — many, many times larger than Davis’ hometown.

“I swear Lavel would make Ridgeville sound like the greatest city in the world,” Gaines said. “I’m pretty sure there’s only 2,000 people there. He had this one tattoo on his arm, 187. I was wondering if that’s your area code? He says, ‘No, it’s my exit.’ I say, “An exit? Why are you repeating an exit?” Here I come!”

Safety Donovan Johnson wanted to tell humorous stories about Perry because of his sense of humor.

“He was happy to put me on the field,” Johnson said. “We did scout and that was maybe early in the season and I didn’t get the call. He called me the wrong name and the coach looked at me like, ‘Brother, what are you doing?’ So later in the season he asked me what the call was. I said, ‘I have him.’ I told him: ‘You flash.’

:As the piece went on, he walked up to him and noticed that he wasn’t flashing on this piece, and then he looked over at me. ‘Bro, don’t ever do that again.’ “I was like, ‘Got you!'”

Kicker Will Bettridge spoke particularly poignantly about Perry since the two played together in youth soccer, high school and Virginia.

“You were a role model to me and a mentor to me as I watched your every move and wanted to be just like you,” Bettridge said. “You were a rock star in the community, giving back and helping others and doing everything for everyone before yourself. Your presence was felt every day that I could share it with you. You were the first to see me after a make or miss. Her outlook on life has never changed.

“I strive to be like you in many ways, your work ethic, your compassion, your mindset, your loyalty. The world would be a better place with more people like you, D’Sean.”

Running back Cody Brown echoed similar thoughts about Chandler in a letter he wrote to him.

“You brightened up our lives like a shining star in the sky. You had a special gift when it came to talking to people, making them laugh, making them feel loved, it didn’t matter if it was someone you didn’t know at all you could be with them talk like you’ve known her for years,” Brown said. “Your zest for life was contagious and you made her happy. You were always true to yourself — it was your world and you just lived in it.”

Elliott closed the program with remarks that leaned heavily on his faith and promised him better days.

“To everyone here, I say, we’re going to turn today’s tragedy into tomorrow’s triumph,” Elliott said. “We have a mission ahead of us, and that mission requires tremendous responsibility in the midst of pain and suffering. There is hope. Weeping will continue through the night, but great joy will come in the morning. Because 1, 15, 41, We have a responsibility to rebuild and program this community on the legacy of its stars in a way that will bring light to the world.

“Lavel, Devin, D’Sean, I look forward to so much the strength, motivation, courage and love you will give us all as we triumph in the days to come. My young kings, may you celebrate in paradise, and we will celebrate on this side each day with the light of your stars.” Virginia football players honored in memorial service

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