Photo: Getty
  /  11.30.2022

Sadly, the prevalence of school shootings in the U.S. led many to initially assume the attack on the campus of the University of Virginia in the late hours of Nov. 13 was just another sordid chapter in the country’s dark period of gun violence. Another argument for better gun control. However, as the details rolled in, this was a little different. Still dark, still sordid, but different. Upon returning to Charlottesville from a class trip to Washington, D.C., Christopher Jones, Jr. allegedly opened fire on the charter bus he and over 20 other students were riding in. There was nothing random about the targets, however.

All three of the victims were football players. He, himself, was a former member of the Cavaliers’ football team. Wide receivers Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler and linebacker D’Sean Perry all died from gunshot wounds to the head. Chandler was reportedly sleeping when he was fatally shot. Two other students were injured but survived. One of those students was Mike Hollins, a running back on the football team. The other was Marlee Morgan. Hollins, shot in the back after returning to the bus to help his teammates, was discharged from the hospital on Nov. 21 following multiple surgeries. After an overnight manhunt, Jones, Jr. was apprehended and faces three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding, and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony.

A witness disclosed to police that Jones, Jr. shot one of the victims while he was sleeping and that the suspect focused on specific targets. So, what would drive the 23-year-old to such rage that he would act so horrifically? After all, Jones, Jr. was only on the football team for a semester of the 2018 season after joining as a walk-on. Davis, Chandler, nor Perry were on the team at that time, so there was no overlap in an athletic sense. In fact, student Ryan Lynch, who witnessed the crime, said there was no interaction between the three victims and the accused shooter at all during the trip, which made the bus altercation even more bizarre.

“Chris got up and pushed Lavel,” Lynch told KYW-TV. “After he pushed him, he was like ‘You guys are always messing with me.’ Said something weird like that, but it was very bizarre because they didn’t talk to him the whole trip.” She added that they had been in the same class all year and that the trip was a bonding experience. The exchange falls in line with one of Christopher Jones, Sr.’s most recent conversations with his son about a month ago. “He had some problems the last time I talked to him. He said some people were picking on him or whatever. He didn’t know how to handle it. I just told him, ‘Go to school, don’t pay them no mind,’” Jones, Sr. told NBC. “He was really paranoid when I talked to him about something, but he wouldn’t tell me everything. He was a very sensitive young man.”

UVA is holding any possible information regarding a motive tight to their chests at this time, but spokesperson Brian Coy disclosed that Jones, Jr. had been linked to a “potential hazing issue” but could not confirm his actual involvement. Who was doing the hazing? What was the timeline? Make no mistake, there is no justification for the horrific actions of the suspect — at all. However, disclosure of such information, in addition to how the university handled the accusation or investigation into the incident(s), could lead to culpability of the school. The hazing case was closed prior to the shooting due to lack of witness cooperation. It is unclear if it has been reopened in the wake of the tragedy. “Due to the ongoing criminal investigation into this matter, we aren’t able to provide comment on these questions. We will offer updates on this case as we are able,” Coy said in an email to WTVR.

Jones, Jr., nearly two months prior to the killings, on Sept. 15, had come under the glare of the school’s threat assessment team after making comments to an individual that he was in possession of a gun. A probe into the statement revealed a misdemeanor concealed weapon violation in Chesterfield County in 2021. “He’s required as a student at University of Virginia to report that and he never did, so the university has taken appropriate administrative charges through the university’s judiciary council and that matter is still pending adjudication,” UVA Police Chief Tim Longo disclosed at a press conference. Jones, Jr.’s refusal to cooperate as school officials sought clarification was supposed to lead to the matter escalating to an “oversight judiciary committee for disciplinary action” back in October. Student Affairs dropped the ball by failing to provide the report to said committee and no disciplinary action was taken. Coy says the school is “working to correct that” although to some, it’s too little, too late. Diligent processing of the situation could have possibly saved the lives lost.

Without details on the timing of the hazing case, it is difficult to discern whether paranoia and trauma from the alleged incident led Jones, Jr. to obtain the firearm. The practice of hazing on college campuses has long produced heinous, sometimes fatal results. The results are not always physical, and the pain is not limited to those subjected to the hazing. Although one must stop short of attributing the horrific events of Nov. 13 to hazing without conclusive evidence, it undoubtedly plays at least a small part in the matter. Having the case closed because no one wanted to come forward as a witness could leave one feeling voiceless, unseen, and insignificant. But still, we must reserve drawing a conclusion at this time due to the refusal of UVA to state Jones, Jr.’s role in the situation. Acknowledging that a student went through the proper channels for help and the university failed to protect him leaves blood on the hands of the institution founded by Thomas Jefferson. When you look at it from that perspective, will we ever get the full truth? Or, will UVA remain vague in the spirit of self-preservation?

College is a time of self-reflection, growth, and self-discovery. Some embark upon that journey by joining clubs, fraternities, participating in sports, and other avenues. Unfortunately, gatekeeping and the desire to create an illusion of exclusivity are breeding grounds for hazing. You must prove you’re “worthy” in a sense. This dangerous practice led to the 2011 death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion following the Florida Classic football game. The otherwise healthy 26-year-old suffered blunt force blows to his head and body, resulting in fatal cardiac arrest. Several bandmates struck plea deals and others served jail time. The practice is not limited to the Black community and has claimed lives in various groups, including Greek organizations, academic clubs, and more. It’s a dangerous spin on a rite of passage that could change the lives of young men and women forever. The consequences manifest in a multitude of ways and could have delayed effects not seen until years after the tassels have turned at college graduation. We will wait for the details as it pertains to the UVA tragedy and keep those affected in our thoughts and prayers.

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