Hell came for college football on Sunday, the way it comes too often for too many corners of American society.
On Saturday, the University of Virginia played Pittsburgh in a home football game. On Sunday, some of the Cavalier players, along with non-athlete students, boarded a charter bus as part of a class field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C.
As the bus returned to campus late Sunday night, everything erupted.
A gunman. A shooting on the bus. Three dead students, each a football player. Two others injured, at least one of whom was a player. A manhunt for the shooter, himself a former player at UVA, although someone who hadn’t been with the program in at least a year.
And a shelter in place order that rocked the pristine grounds of this idyllic campus and rattled a sport far and wide to its core.
The questions are plentiful. The answers almost non-existent. The pain is simply incalculable.
Three young lives ended. Three bright futures extinguished.
“Devastation,” Virginia coach Tony Elliott described it in a statement. “Heartache.”
D’Sean Perry, a junior linebacker from Miami, Lavel Davis, a star wide receiver from South Carolina and Devin Chandler, a Virginia Beach native and wide receiver who transferred back to his home state from Wisconsin, all died, two of them while still on the bus.
One of the wounded, running back Mike Hollins of Baton Rouge, La., was listed in good condition, according to The Advocate newspaper. Another student was listed in critical condition.
The alleged shooter, just days before his 21st birthday, was arrested without incident Monday afternoon some 75 miles away, near Richmond, Virginia.
There will be time to figure out what happened, how it happened and why it happened. The alleged gunman has been charged with three counts of murder.
“There will be questions that have no answers,” UVA police chief Tim Longo said. “We do not yet have a full understanding of the motive and circumstances surrounding this event.”
Perhaps that will come, not that there is an answer that changes anything, that brings back the lives snuffed out far too soon. There is nothing that can truly make sense of these acts. There never is.
What causes someone who has risen all the way to UVA, one of the nation’s finest and most famous universities, to engage in this kind of act against his fellow students, ending their lives but also, for all intents and purposes, his own, too?
“[They were] found inside a charter bus where they’d been for the day enjoying a school activity, having a meal together and then coming back to our grounds,” Longo said. “And then someone amongst them chose to do an act of violence.”
When a school field trip to an off-campus play is considered dangerous, even to some of the biggest and strongest men around, then what is safe, where is safe and how does this country ever find a way to end this plague of death and destruction?
Longo said the alleged shooter had come across the university’s “threat assessment team” twice in recent years.
Once it was for a report that he owned a firearm and another for participation in some kind of hazing incident. Both investigations went nowhere. A roommate said he never saw a gun and a lack of cooperation ended the hazing inquiry. There was an additional “concealed weapon violation” outside of Charlottesville that was never reported to campus authorities, Longo said.
Now this. Now three families heading to a campus where they once dropped their sons off to play Division I football and receive a world-class education. This is still the kind of program where Sundays can be spent on educational enrichment, not just preparing for the next opponent.
Now the football team is left without some of its biggest personalities, three kids hailed by fellow students and professors alike for their academic curiosity and daily joy. The games feel even more meaningless.
“These were incredible young men with huge aspirations and extremely bright futures,” Elliott said. “Our hearts ache for their families, for their classmates and their friends … they touched us, inspired us and worked incredibly hard as representatives of our program, university and community.”
Elliott sounded like so many other authority figures through the years. Broken down and unsure what to say through these unimaginable circumstances that just keep happening and happening. All anyone can do is hope it doesn’t happen to them. All day Monday, coaches and players from across sports offered thoughts and condolences. There is almost nothing else that can be said.
“My heart is broken for the victims and their families,” UVA president James Ryan said. “ ... This is an extraordinarily difficult day for our community.”
This time it came to Virginia. This time to college football. This time until the next time, when another wave of sadness and tragedy hits someone and somewhere else.