CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Thousands of people joined Virginia’s soccer team, coaches and staff on Saturday to honor three players who were shot while returning from a field trip last weekend.
Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were remembered during a memorial service in Charlottesville as great teammates who always wore smiles and sought to brighten the lives of those around them, from teammates to others students and fans.
“Only time will reveal God’s purpose in this need. … Going forward I am confident that all three will rejoice in paradise and say well on behalf of each of us in preparing for the time when we will all be together again,” said Tony Elliott, head coach of the first year.
Of family members and friends in the front two rows, Elliott added, “I am grateful for your willingness to share your family’s gifts with all of us.”
Sharing stories she heard from family members of the players this week, sporting director Carla Williams said the tragedy “has pushed me to my limits”.
“We are better and we will do better because we will make sure her legacy at the University of Virginia never fades,” she vowed, telling families, “We loved your sons.”
The service at the John Paul Jones Arena took place on a day where the Cavaliers were playing No. 23 Coastal Carolina were scheduled to play but instead chose to honor their fallen teammates, as well as injured player Mike Hollins and another student who was shot.
Also among the presenters was Grammy-winning gospel singer Cece Winans, who was encouraged to attend, according to the school. She sang “God’s Goodness”.
Several cavaliers took part. Placekicker Justin Duenkel offered an opening prayer, linebacker Hunter Stewart read the Langston Hughes poem “Life is Fine,” and defensive end Jack Camper offered the closing prayer. In between, administrators and teammates of the slain men offered stories and reflections on their football brothers.
Perry was “destined to be great at everything he did,” said defensive tackle Aaron Faumui. He added that Perry often reminded him that “life is more important than football”.
In a letter to Chandler, which Williams described as a “dancing machine,” Cody Brown told him that “you lit up our lives like a shining star in the sky,” saying, “We love you so much and know you’re smiling.” down on us from heaven.”
Coach Marques Hagans said Davis was humble with a beaming smile and “determined to be a great example for his younger sister and brother.”
Teammate Chico Bennett offered a message for Hollins and Marlee Morgan, the injured student, who were both absent: “We love you. we have you The journey starts.”
Kicker Will Bettridge shared that Perry once told him on the touchline that he would tell his kid to play that position because kickers have so little to do.
“A piece of my life has been taken from me and the Cavaliers community,” Bettridge said.
University President Jim Ryan said the shootings “changed our world” and while he and others will mourn the games the students will never play, “together we will find strength again.”
The players were killed after a field trip to Washington DC last Sunday. Former Virginia football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. faces triple second-degree murder and other charges. The shootings sparked a manhunt and a 12-hour campus lockdown before Jones was arrested.
The suspect was never mentioned during the nearly two-hour service.
Mourners were allowed to enter an hour before the service was scheduled to begin and heard musical performances by school choir groups and the MLK Community Choir. Photos of the players as children and in action on the field ran across the video board.
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