University of Virginia football players are honored in memorial service

Thousands of people joined the Virginia football team, coaches and staff on Saturday to remember the three players who were shot and killed while returning from a field trip last weekend.

Lavelle Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were remembered at a memorial service in Charlottesville as great teammates who always had a smile on their face and strived to brighten the lives of those around them.

The service came a day after Virginia State basketball players returned to the court for the first time since the campus shooting.

“Only time will reveal God’s purpose in this crisis. “I hope all three of them will be rejoicing in heaven, saying good things on behalf of each of us, and preparing for the time when we will all be together again,” said first-year head coach Tony Elliott.

To family members and friends in the first two rows, Elliott added, “I appreciate your willingness to share the gifts of your family with all of us.”

Athletic director Carla Williams shared the stories she heard from players’ families this week, saying the tragedy “pushed me to my limits.”

University of Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams, left, and football coach Tony Elliott wipe away tears during a service for Lavelle Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.

University of Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams, left, and football coach Tony Elliott wipe away tears during a service for Lavelle Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.

“We are better and we will do better as we ensure that their legacy at the University of Virginia will never fade,” he vowed to the families, adding, “We loved your sons.”

The service at John Paul Jones Arena came on the day the Cavaliers were scheduled to play No. 23 Coastal Carolina, but instead chose to honor their fallen teammates, as well as injured player Mike Hollins and another student who was shot.

Among the presenters was Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Cece Winans, who was asked by the school to participate. He sang “The Goodness of God.”

Several cavaliers attended. Place kicker Justin Duenkel offered the opening prayer, linebacker Hunter Stewart read Langston Hughes’ “Life is Beautiful” and defensive end Jack Camper offered the closing prayer. In between, administrators and teammates of the slain men offered stories and reflections about their football brothers.

Ross Brown laid a wreath at a memorial in the John Paul Jones Arena on the university campus

Ross Brown laid a wreath at a memorial in the John Paul Jones Arena on the university campus

A family member of a man who was shot and killed at a memorial service in Charlottesville, Wash., mourns.

A family member of a man who was shot and killed at a memorial service in Charlottesville, Wash., mourns.

Defensive tackle Aaron Faumoui said Perry is “dedicated to being great at everything he does.” He added that Perry often reminded him that “life is more important than football.”

In a letter to Chandler, whom Williams called a “dance machine,” Cody Brown told him that “you lit up our lives like a bright star in the sky” and said, “We love and know you so much.” He is smiling at us from heaven.”

Coach Marques Hagans said Davis was humble with a bright smile and “determined to be a great role model for her younger sister and brother.”

Teammate Chico Bennett offered a message to injured students Hollins and Marlee Morgan, neither of whom were present: “We love you. We got you. The journey begins.’

Kicker Will Bettridge once said on the sidelines that Perry told him to tell his son to play the position because kickers have little else to do.

“A piece of my life was taken from me and the Cavaliers community,” Betteridge said.

University President Jim Ryan said the shootings “changed our world” and that while he and others mourned the games students never got to play, “we will find strength again together.”

The players were killed last Sunday after a field trip to Washington. Former Virginia football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. faces three counts of second-degree murder and other charges. The shootings prompted a manhunt and a campus lockdown for 12 hours before Jones was arrested.

During the nearly two-hour service, the suspect was not mentioned once.

Mourners were allowed an hour before the scheduled start of the service and listened to musical numbers by school choirs and the MLK Community Choir. Pictures of the players from their childhood and their actions on the field were flashed on the video board.

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