Love, Support and Sunshine: UVA Pays Homage to Slain Students a Year Later

November 13, 2023 By Andrew Ramspacher, Andrew Ramspacher,

One year after one of the darkest days on the University of Virginia’s Grounds, there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

On Monday at 12:55 p.m., the sun beamed off the UVA Chapel as a large gathering of the University community, spread across the Rotunda’s west terrace, and from Clemons Library nearly to the Corner, stood in silence. 

The chapel’s bells tolled three times – once for Devin Chandler, once for Lavel Davis Jr. and once for D’Sean Perry. 

The UVA football players, who were shot to death on a bus outside Culbreth Garage on Nov. 13, 2022, were remembered by a crowd of students, staff, faculty members, local community members and those with personal ties to the young men. Several in attendance wore “UVA Strong” T-shirts featuring the numbers 1, 15 and 41 to represent the jerseys once donned by Davis, Chandler and Perry. 

The outpouring of support was a continuation of what took place earlier in the day on the opposite end of the Lawn. There, inside the auditorium at Old Cabell Hall, the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy hosted a conversation with five individuals who have been affected by gun violence, including Happy Perry, D’Sean’s mother.

Related Story

Will Bettridge speaking behind a podium inside Old Cabell Hall
Monday’s panel concluded with words from UVA football player Will Bettridge, a lifelong friend of D’Sean Perry’s who now wears Perry’s jersey No. 41 in his honor.

Wearing a navy blazer adorned with an orange ribbon, Perry dabbed the tears from her eyes as she spoke about the past year without her son.

“The first few months were really rough,” she said. “But I knew I had to get that strength every day to get up and keep going.”

She said she tries to find joy by doing things D’Sean would have enjoyed. This inspired the founding of the “D’Sean Emir Perry Spirit of the Cavaliers LLC” to support community causes important to her son, such as a bike drive in his hometown of Miami

Happy, who was supported by members of her family seated in the front row of the auditorium as well as head football coach Tony Elliott and other Cavalier players, shared common ground with those on stage. One was Tracy Walls, a Nashville resident who lost her 15-year-old son, Edgar J. Utley, to gun violence in February 2021.

Candid of Happy Perry speaking in Old Cabell Hall
A year after her son’s tragic passing, an emotional Happy Perry spoke Monday on a panel with fellow individuals who have felt the personal impact of gun violence.

UVA Athletics Director Carla Williams coached Walls when she was a basketball player at the University of Georgia in the 1990s. Monday, Williams, seated near the Perry family, watched as Walls shared how she manages life in the wake of tragedy. 

Like D’Sean, Edgar was a star football player, Walls said, speaking publicly for the first time since her son’s death.

Walls said she draws inspiration from a line country singer Jelly Roll used at a recent awards show: “The windshield in front of you is bigger than the rearview mirror.”

“So our stories today,” she said as she nodded to the other panelists, “we have to find joy and purpose in our plans and look ahead.”

Kevin Parker, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, said establishing a community to lean on has been paramount to his recovery process.

Tracy Walls and Chico Bennett Jr. walking from Old Cabell Hall towards the UVA Chapel with a line of students behind them
Tracy Walls, a panelist for the gun violence conversation, walks the Lawn toward the UVA Chapel alongside Cavalier football player Chico Bennett Jr.

“To have people that you love and love you and you can be yourself [around them],” Parker said, “I think that’s key.”

Happy had no shortage of that love Monday. Near the end of the hourlong panel, she was embraced on stage by Will Bettridge, the UVA placekicker who grew up with her son and now wears D’Sean’s No. 41 in his honor. 

Bettridge called Happy a “second mother.”

“You show me what it means to fight and to pursue any goal that I can achieve,” he told her. “As a member of the UVA football team, you gave me the biggest blessing ever – being able to wear the No. 41 this season.”

Happy, Bettridge continued, “keeps pushing us to be better people on and off the field.”

Media Contact

Cathryn McCue

Assistant Director of Communications Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy