UVA coach says team beginning healing process
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — First-year Virginia football coach Tony Elliott knows there is no manual or playbook to help him deal with what his team is facing.
On Sunday night, three of his players were shot and killed and two others were wounded on a charter bus after students returned to campus from a field trip in Washington, D.C.
“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,” Elliott said during a news conference Tuesday.
Junior receiver Lavel Davis Jr. of Dorchester, South Carolina; junior receiver Devin Chandler of Huntersville, North Carolina; and junior defensive end/linebacker D’Sean Perry of Miami were killed. Running back Mike Hollins of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is hospitalized after being shot in the back.
“You prepare for this job [but] there is no chapter on something like this,” said Elliott, a former Clemson offensive coordinator. “So I am just trying to figure out how to be strong for these young men.”
Elliott acknowledged it hasn’t been easy.
“The first meeting was really, really … ,” Elliott said, before fighting back his emotions. “Really tough.”
Elliott said his focus has been on helping his players deal with the shocking loss of three teammates. He has worked to ensure that the victims’ families have everything they need. He visited Hollins in the hospital on Tuesday.
“The best coping mechanism for me is the young men,” Elliott said. “To see their pain, to see their hurt, it inspires me to keep pushing forward.”
Athletic director Carla Williams said the Cavaliers haven’t yet decided whether they will play Saturday’s home game against Coastal Carolina. She said a decision would be made soon.
“We’ll make it together,” Williams said. “It will be a discussion with Coach [Elliott] and the team. Obviously, they’re going through a lot, and we want to make sure they’re involved as well. We’ll use our best judgment, but it will be soon. We’ll make a decision soon.”
A candlelight vigil was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Tuesday night, as well as a “Service for Justice and Peace” at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville.
The suspected shooter is former Virginia football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., who was arrested by police Monday.
Jones, 22, was transferred to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail on Tuesday from a facility in Henrico County, Virginia, where he had been arrested without incident the day before. He was being held without bail on three felony charges of second-degree murder and firearm use in the commission of a felony. Additionally, Jones faces two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges, Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley told The Associated Press.
“You prepare for this job [but] there is no chapter on something like this. So I am just trying to figure out how to be strong for these young men.” Virginia football coach Tony Elliott
Jones is scheduled for a bond hearing at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday, via video conference.
Hollins’ family has said that he is one of the hospitalized victims.
Gordon McKernan, a spokesman for the Hollins family, told ESPN that Hollins had emergency surgery on Sunday night to remove a bullet from his stomach. Doctors performed a second surgery to check for internal injuries and were encouraged by what they found, according to McKernan.
McKernan said doctors removed Hollins from a ventilator after the second surgery.
A University of Virginia official confirmed to ESPN on Tuesday that the other student who survived was a female and a non-athlete who is considered to be in good condition.
Jones was a walk-on member of the Virginia football team in the fall of 2018. He had a pre-existing lower-body injury when he arrived on campus, according to former Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall, and was unable to practice or play in a game. Jones left the team the next semester, according to Mendenhall.
Mendenhall, who coached the Cavaliers from 2016 to 2021, didn’t recall Jones having any disciplinary issues in his short time with the team.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Mendenhall said. “I know he remained a UVA student. But I don’t have any other understanding of it. He was a classmate of these guys and there were other players in the same class, so I just don’t understand it. I wish I could provide more insight but his time with the program was so short and so long ago. There was never anything that came across my desk with any discipline or behavior issues. And with being hurt the whole time, he wasn’t really integrated into the program in that one semester.”
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.
Classes at Virginia are expected to resume Wednesday, but undergrads will not be required to complete any graded assignments or take exams before Thanksgiving break.
ESPN’s David Hale and The Associated Press contributed to this report.