The highest profile of the 27 shootings in Charlottesville and Albemarle County since September was the Nov. 13 shooting on University of Virginia Grounds that killed three student-athletes.
The deaths of D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler shook many UVa students, some of whom knew and loved the three as classmates and friends.
But students have not been left unfazed by the recent rise in gun violence in the city and county where they attend college. And while they may not be aware of the exact numbers – that 10 other people also have been killed by gunfire and that 22 other people have been injured – they are certainly reconsidering what makes them feel safe in their community.
“I think gun violence touches quite a lot of people, everyone in the UVa community, quite intimately even after the Nov. 13 shooting,” said Karly Scholz, a second-year student at UVa. “It continues to be an ever-present thing in the minds of UVa students because we get these updates and we see this happening so close to Grounds and to where we hang out.”
Rapid threat response
UVa Police Department Chief Timothy Longo said UVa already has addressed some safety issues.
For instance, Longo and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis have developed and implemented a new approach for assessing firearm threats on university Grounds.
The changes are “mostly around what happens when we receive credible information about a firearm on grounds, which is now resulting in the immediate notification to the police, and we will immediately begin the process of vetting that threat,” Longo said.
“That might include everything from making a visit to the person who we believe may be in possession of that weapon, to accessing other agencies and records that we have at our disposal to better assess or mitigate that threat,” Longo said. “Then, within 24 hours of receiving that information, report back to the threat assessment team for next steps.”
The change comes just shy of the four-month anniversary of the Nov.13 shooting. Former student Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. was arrested and charged with the murders on Nov. 14, but for reasons not totally clear, Jones eluded the threat assessment team’s oversight last fall after they received a report that he might have had a gun.
Jones initially caught the attention of the UVa Threat Assessment Team when his name appeared in a hazing investigation, Longo said in a press conference the day after the shooting. According to Longo, the hazing investigation was closed because witnesses would not cooperate.
During the investigation into the Nov. 13 shooting, police found that Jones had been charged with having a concealed weapon in February 2021. UVa policy requires students to self-report any criminal arrests or convictions before beginning a new school year.
On the same day as Jones’ arrest, Virginia State Police recovered a semi-automatic rifle, a Smith & Wesson model 39 pistol, a pair of full or nearly full 30-round automatic rifle magazines, a box of Winchester .223 ammunition and a pair of Glock 9mm magazines from Jones’ on-grounds dormitory. State police also seized a binary trigger, a device used to increase the firing speed of a semi-automatic rifle.
In September 2022, the university received a report that Jones had a firearm on or near Grounds from an individual who had “no affiliation with the university,” Longo said in November. In October, a university spokesman told The Daily Progress that Jones was unresponsive when the university contacted him about the report.
Under the new threat assessment process that Longo introduced, university police would have had to let the local police know that Jones posed a potential threat, could have visited his dorm room in Bice Hall and could have obtained his records which would have revealed his 2021 concealed carry charge.
Longo presented the new process for assessing threats at the UVa Board of Visitors’ March 3 meeting.
The chief said university police have used the process “a number of times in the past couple of weeks.”
While the university’s threat assessment procedures are a hot topic in the wake of the Nov. 13 shooting, Longo also mentioned the changes as solutions for the increase in gun violence surrounding the university.
When Longo referred to the “uptick” in gun violence, board member Douglas Wetmore asked the chief for the data to back that up.
“We’ve looked at the last five years. I can’t give you a number with respect to percentages, I can certainly come back to this board with that information,” Longo said during the meeting. “I’ll come back at a later time by email. There are ways to give you that data, but there is a particular uptick.”
The Daily Progress sent Longo a request via email for that data.
“I have not been asked to prepare such data for the board members, and don’t anticipate that I will be,” Longo said in an email to The Daily Progress. “My sense was that my presentation, coupled with my response to their questions, was deemed to be sufficient. I am not the custodian of the city and county’s data.”
The university’s annual fire safety and security report was last updated in 2022 with information from 2019-2021. According to the report, the UVa Police Department arrested one person on campus for illegal weapons possession each year.
The UVa department that ensures the university’s compliance with the Clery Act, a federal statute that requires colleges and universities to report campus crime data, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Progress about when the next report with 2022 data will be released.
More alerts from more police
Longo said he has met with Charlottesville City Police Chief Michael Kochis and Albemarle County Police Chief Sean Reeves to address the rise in gun violence.
Longo told the Board of Visitors that the chiefs met to analyze “real-time” information and ways to identify crime trends, look for available resources and deploy police resources “strategically and constitutionally.”
Longo said the meeting was cut short when city and county police engaged in a standoff with a man who was shooting a firearm on Hydraulic Road, a two-minute walk from the Villa Diner and a few minutes drive away from UVa’s Central Grounds, on Feb. 28. Albemarle police eventually shot the man, who died at UVa Medical Center later that day.
The emergency notifications, that lit up students’ phones that day, have become much more frequent, according to Scholz.
“I’d say we get one every day, if not every other day,” Scholz said. “It really is kind of a routine thing, and eventually, it falls into a routine in your life where you just don’t necessarily notice it as much as is warranted for a message of that scale.”
Scholz said it has been “scary and weird” to receive emergency notifications from university police about shootings at places that she and her friends frequent.
Scholz added that she has noticed that students are taking emergency alerts from the UVa Police Department more seriously than they did last year.
“There were always a lot of Yik Yaks and social media content about them because the [emergency] emails would say everything was unknown,” Scholz said. “Age: unknown. Race: unknown. Gender: unknown. So people would make jokes about how unhelpful these emails were.”
Scholz pegged the moment students began taking the notifications more seriously to one date: when students were directed to shelter in place the entire night of Nov. 13 at the direction of university police as authorities hunted for the suspect in the shooting.
“For a lot of students, that was the first time that gun violence touched them so intimately,” Scholz said. “I think it was sobering for a lot of people who didn’t necessarily think that gun violence was an issue that was related to them or that community safety didn’t apply to them because they were at UVa.”
Too close to home
For students who call Charlottesville home outside the days on the academic calendar, the uptick in local gun violence has been deeply painful.
When Charlottesville resident Vizena Howard retired from the UVa Health System, she became the president of the 10th & Page Neighborhood Association. When Charlottesville City Schools told parents that more students would need to walk to school due to a bus driver shortage, Howard became a crossing guard in 10th & Page, where she and her family have lived for generations.
Howard’s granddaughter is Zyahna Bryant, the UVa fourth-year student who was instrumental in the removal of the memorials to Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in downtown Charlottesville. Bryant was distraught that her grandmother’s car was ruined by gunfire in a September shooting last year.
“The first shooting in September happened around the corner from where my Nana’s house is,” said Bryant. “This is my home. I go to this house every day. I don’t live there, but this is where I was raised. This is our family home and my Nana’s car was shot up. Her car was completely totaled.”
Longo told the Board of Visitors that university police identified the intersection of Hardy Drive and 10th Street as a “hot spot” for gun violence.
And months later, Bryant was on the way to her grandmother’s house when 20-year-old Gordonsville resident Nicklous Pendleton was shot and killed in his pickup truck right on Hardy Drive in the 10th & Page neighborhood on Feb. 22.
“That intersection is where I park my car every time I go to my Nana’s house,” Bryant said. “I had just gotten off a meeting with my internship director and I was headed over there. If I would have left five minutes earlier, my car would have been shot up too. I probably would have been shot up.”
Bryant said she believes that the shootings, which have disproportionately harmed young Black men and the 10th & Page neighborhood, are a symptom of “much deeper issues.”
“This gun violence is not separate from the violence that we see sanctioned by state entities such as police and other forms of state violence that disproportionately affect Black people,” she said. “This is all connected, and until we’re having those larger, systemic conversations, we will continue to see this horizontal violence on a community level.”
These issues instill a deep distrust of police, especially among people who are Black, she said.
“Therefore new leadership needs to acknowledge past wrongs in order for people to feel safe enough to bring attainable and neighborhood-specific policing solutions to the table,” Bryant said.