Friends say Donovon Lynch, 25-year-old shot by Virginia Beach police, loved the ’757’ and made everyone smile

Peter Coutu, The Virginian-Pilot
·6 min read

There was no mistaking Donovon Lynch’s love for his hometown.

In college, with his football teammates, he’d talk about how much he loved Virginia Beach, and argue the superiority of the 757 area code over Richmond’s 804.

When he returned to the city afterward, he began working with local music acts and dreamed of starting a management business and clothing line.

Lynch, 25, was all about community, friends told The Virginian-Pilot, encouraging others to live out their dreams while he chased his own.

Late Friday night, Lynch was fatally shot by a Virginia Beach police officer during what Police Chief Paul Neudigate later called a chaotic night of violence at the Oceanfront.

Police initially claimed Lynch was an “armed citizen,” but at a press conference Saturday night, Neudigate said there was no evidence that a gun found “in the vicinity” of the shooting was Lynch’s. He also said the officer who shot Lynch did not have his body camera activated and investigators did not know why.

On Monday, police reversed course again, saying that Lynch “was brandishing a handgun at the time of the shooting,” according to their interviews with the officer who shot Lynch and another officer who witnessed the shooting. Police said an independent witness said in an interview that Lynch had a gun earlier that night.

A department spokesperson declined to provide more information on why the officer’s body camera was turned off, citing the ongoing investigation. The department also declined to release the name of the officer, whom police said is a five-year veteran of the department assigned to the special operations division. The officer is on administrative assignment during the investigation.

Lynch’s family has declined to comment to The Pilot.

Lynch grew up in Virginia Beach. At 6-foot-4, he was a hulking guy long involved in athletics. He attended Landstown and Salem high schools before graduating in 2014 from Norfolk Christian, where he played football and basketball.

Teachers recently remembered him as “sweet,” “respectful,” and “appreciative of all that (I) taught him,” according to an email from Norfolk Christian’s head of school, Dan Tubbs.

Lynch then briefly attended a community college in San Francisco before ending up at University of Virginia College at Wise as an offensive lineman on the football team. He graduated in 2019 with a degree in physical education.

Several friends from that time described Lynch the same way: caring, funny, always laughing and willing to lend an ear.

Zach Cannon said his locker was right next to Lynch’s because they wore numbers 72 and 71 on the football team, respectively. Cannon, a long snapper, and Lynch, the lineman, got “really close, really fast.”

Lynch served as a bit of a mentor for Cannon, who looked up to him when he was new on campus. Lynch helped him stay on top of classwork and get adjusted on the team.

Another teammate, Chavon Fields, said Lynch treated everyone the same, whether you were a freshman on the end of the bench or a star senior.

Lynch was also deeply religious, and talked often about faith, family and the businesses he planned on starting, said Terrence Lambert, a running back on the team.

Lambert called Lynch “Bishop,” because the two prayed together often — especially in hard times, like when Lynch’s mom died a few years ago. Lynch helped motivate Lambert to recover after a knee surgery.

They would play the Madden video game together — Lynch playing as the Philadelphia Eagles, his favorite team — and debate about rappers, sharing a love of Lil Wayne and even agreeing “Carter III” is his best album.

One time, the whole football team had a sluggish practice, and their head coach let them know it — loudly. People felt down on the way to the locker room.

But inside, soon after, music was on and Lynch started dancing. Soon everyone was laughing and joking around, Cannon said.

“He just made everyone smile, no matter what room he was in,” he said.

It became a running joke that Lynch would always ask when and where they were going to eat.

“One of his famous lines was: ‘I’m big, I see what I want and I eat it,’” Lambert said.

When Lambert found out the news on Saturday, he had just woken up and stayed there, stuck and crying. “It can’t be Donovon. Not the one I know,” he said he thought. “It had to be someone else with the same first and last name.”

Niyah Nelson, 26, still remembers Lynch being the “biggest, goofiest guy you would meet.”

They sat next to each other in sports marketing class at Landstown High about a decade ago.

He was a freshman; she was a sophomore.

“It was never anything but jokes,” Nelson recalled.”We joked each other in class all day.”

Lynch would often give Nelson his lunch. “His mom used to pack him wonderful sandwiches with Dijon mustard.”

They only went to school together for a brief time, but stayed in touch via social media, and then reconnected in recent years.

Lynch had gotten into the local hip hop music scene as a manager and entrepreneur. He liked to connect various parts of the community for events — including helping with Pharrell’s Something in the Water festival in 2019.

On Monday, a post from the Something in the Water festival’s Instagram account was dedicated to Lynch.

“We don’t have the words to fully express how sorry we are about the loss of this beautiful life,” it reads. “We thank you and your family for your light and service. The VA Beach community and beyond will miss you. Rest In Peace Donovon.”

Nelson, a teacher’s assistant at Chesapeake Public Schools, also works as an event producer and blogger, and said Lynch was always looking for ways to “champion” people like her in the community. “It was nothing but reciprocity and love” with him.

Cameron Bertrand, 30, became close to the Lynch family through his work as a community activist. He met Donovon after being mentored by Lynch’s father, Wayne.

Bertrand quickly realized the father’s commitment to community-building had been passed down.

It was “nothing but positive interactions,” Bertrand said. “The Lynch family has done so much for our community. It’s important we do the same for them.”

Marquis Hamilton, another football player who said he considers Lynch family, said they spoke on Thursday through an Instagram live video.

Lynch wanted Hamilton to join him on a trip he was planning to Atlanta on April 17 — what would have been Lynch’s 26th birthday.

“But we didn’t get there,” Hamilton said.

Peter Coutu, 757-222-5124, peter.coutu@pilotonline.com

Katherine Hafner, 757-222-5208, katherine.hafner@pilotonline.com