Recent UVA shooting gives rise to questions of school safety for college students, HS seniors

At 7 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 14, senior Ava Grim frantically spams her sister. She’s met with silence. Grim quickly checks her sister’s location to find she’s sleeping safe and sound in her dorm. She’s relieved—but the initial shock was frightening.

The day before, Christopher Jones Jr. killed three students and wounded two at the University of Virginia. The students were on a bus back from a class field trip for their African American playwrights class. The three deceased, Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, were members of the school’s football team.

Grim said her UVA sophomore sister fell asleep at 8 p.m. the day of the shooting, unaware of the chaos at her school and the fear of her family. Like all other parents of UVA students, Isabella Grim’s family was informed of the shooting via email.

“She just woke up to her school in lockdown,” Grim said. “She had an interview in the morning and was stressed about studying for it. So originally, she was like ‘Oh, I get more time to study for my interview,’ before she realized how serious the situation was.”

UVA freshman and Marshall alumnus Krishna Girish Kumar said he was on his way back to his dorm when he saw a fire truck racing past him.

“I get into my dorm and then, like five to 10 minutes later, I get the alert that there was a shooting and we were ordered to shelter in place after that,” Girish Kumar said.

Another UVA freshman and Marshall alumna, Elin Yim, said she was especially worried for her friends who had to take shelter in libraries and gyms once the order was put in place.

“I feel like living on campus intensifies the need to protect schools and make them a safe space,” Yim said. “At the end of the day, students aren’t going to leave campus because campus is their home.”

Since the shooting took place close to Thanksgiving break, Yim said most students chose to leave early for home.

“Campus was eerily silent and isolating on the days following the shooting,” she said. “I barely saw anyone walking to classes or at the dining halls because most people seized the opportunity to go back home and distance themselves from UVA for their mental health.”

Senior Téa Murphy, who has a sibling at the school, said she found out about the incident the next morning.

“It was very unsettling to hear,” Murphy said. “I felt very scared for my sister because I know that it can be scary to already be in a new place and now in a place where you don’t feel safe.”

Murphy said she applied to UVA and that the incident would not influence her decision to attend. She said she believes the shooting was tied to violence in general and not the school itself.

Math teacher Nevine Spicer, whose daughter attends UVA, said she agrees the shooting doesn’t reflect on the school specifically.

“I think it can happen anywhere,” Spicer said. “It’s an open campus. So unless they have gates around the campus, there’s no way to keep people out.”

On the other hand, senior Gavin Sandall said the shooting may still impact his decision.

“Being safe is always a priority,” Sandall said. “The fact that it happened, and also all the stuff that happened in Charlottesville a couple of years ago, [safety is] just a little bit iffy.”

Grim said she has heard of other recent shootings. One shooting was in D.C., close to her soccer teammates’ school.

“I think the UVA school shooting was more publicized because it was the football team that drew a lot of press,” Grim said. “One other school started posting about it and created support through the football community. That made it more publicized than a school in D.C.”

Girish Kumar said despite the tragedy on campus, the UVA community came together to mourn its loss.

“It’s so unfortunate that it was the shooting that brought us all together, but it really showed me how together the community is here at UVA,” Girish Kumar said.

He said he thinks the university is doing a good job at acknowledging what happened.

“We did Lighting up the Lawn, which we do every year, but this year, it was specifically in honor of the three football players that, unfortunately, passed away because of the shooting,” Girish Kumar said.

Yim said there were other opportunities for students to grieve and feel supported, including vigils for the students who passed, therapy dogs and a new grading policy to alleviate end-of-semester stress.

Girish Kumar said the impact of the shooting will be part of UVA’s memory, especially for the freshmen.

“It’s such a hard memory to keep, but I don’t think anyone will ever get over what happened, no matter how normal we go back to,” he said.