The Tragedy at UVA Hits Home

Alumni share their experiences on the UVA campus.


Anna Jones

Hundreds of UVA students and Charlottesville community members gather Monday for an unofficial vigil in honor of the three lives lost.

By now we have all heard, read about and seen reports on the tragic murder of three UVA students on Sunday, November 13.  With the entire campus on lockdown, students were sheltered in dorms, gyms, and libraries, including several Dominion HS alumni. Here are their stories:

Julia Samaha, Class of 2020

“On Sunday night when the tragedy occurred, I was at Clemons library (the main library on Grounds) doing some work. Whenever there is crime of any sort on grounds, we receive an “aggravated assault” email— UVA students tend to receive these multiple times a week, so initially, I disregarded the notification. A couple minutes later, I received another alert (you can probably find it on Twitter) announcing an active shooter and instructing students to RUN, HIDE, FIGHT, which triggered an adrenaline rush; I was immediately terrified, especially being in a central location without any authority figures. I was confused at first because a lot of my peers seemed either unaware of what was unfolding around us, or in denial. Eventually, everyone in Clem was bustling around trying to find shelter while listening fearfully to the local police scanner. In order to find safety, some friends and I took shelter in the locked handicapped bathroom— we stayed in here for about three hours listening to the scanner. It was clear we would have to stay through the night, so we later ventured to the stacks on floor 1 to try to get some rest. It was impossible to sleep and I tried to fight back tears as I thought about the danger around me and the possible loss of life of my peers.

It wasn’t until the morning that we got more information. I began my day with a heavy heart as I learned about the deaths of Lavel, Devin, and D’Sean (whom I did not know personally, but knew as members of the UVA community and football team). It was honestly hard to function at all on Monday, and I spent a lot of the day traumatized, crying in bed and making sure that my loved ones knew how much I appreciated them. UVA felt a little bit dystopian; it still hadn’t hit me that this was real life. I felt numb as helicopters continued to circle above Mad Bowl. It was an incredibly rude awakening; I experienced survivor’s guilt as this could’ve happened to anyone’s friends, anyone’s family, even myself.

The UVA community shone very, very strong on Monday as everyone traveled to the South Lawn for the unofficial vigil. It was so powerful to be grieving with so many caring souls and to feel the love circulating. This week has felt like a bit of a simulation— everything feels very… off. I believe time will heal as we continue to honor the lives of the victims and spread love throughout the community. Small, kind acts, such as the President of UVA opening up his house to the student body for comfort, will continue to promote the mending of our hearts and minds.”

Tyler Burtner, Class of 2019

“I was at my apartment about two blocks away from the site of the shooting when it happened. Most of my friends and I found out through an email alert system UVA sends out during emergencies, and we spent most of the night monitoring the hunt for the shooter by listening to the police radio. There were of course lots of rumors flying around about what happened, but finding out the story the next morning was really heartbreaking.

I was lucky enough to not lose anyone I was super close to, but it’s upsetting that something like this happened and sad to see the lives of three promising young people cut short. For me and my friends, it really just stimulated some reflection and helped us gain a new appreciation for all that we have in the present.”

Neena Peterson, Class of 2022 (former DHS Press editor-in-chief)

“The last couple days have felt pretty bewildering to say the least. I first heard about the initial shooting over UVA’s email alert system as I was studying in the stacks at Clark Hall, where I ended up sheltering in place until 10:30 the next morning. While we were stuck inside, I had a lot of what felt like inexplicable anxiety, because even though my logical mind knew we were far enough away and very likely safe from the suspect, I couldn’t help but listen to the police scanner all night and wait for something to happen instead of trying to sleep.

I was initially so relieved to be out of the library that I just ran back to my dorm and fell asleep, but a sort of brain fog persisted for the rest of the day and I couldn’t focus on much. There was an informal vigil to honor the three victims, where their families and the football team gathered as the rest of the student body had candles and phone flashlights lit, and since then I’ve been trying to wrestle with the fact that this actually happened and return to some type of norm.”

Malik Kurtz, Class of 2022

“Me and my roommate were both fortunate enough to be in our dorms when the first alert was sent out which read, ‘Shots fired reported at Culbreth Garage. Follow fire/police directions. If possible, avoid the area,’ which I really didn’t think anything of. Every few days there’s usually an alert with regard to some kind of aggravated assault or crime near grounds so this one didn’t really seem any different. However, I realized something was off when they sent out many more alerts, one which read ‘ACTIVE ATTACKER firearm reported in area of Culbreth Road. RUN HIDE FIGHT.’ At this point I still didn’t know anyone was shot or injured so I just continued playing video games and talking to my roommate. Very soon after I started getting texts from friends on and off grounds asking me if I was okay and only then did I find out from other students who had been listening to the police radio that 3 students had been shot and 2 injured. 

After that I understood that this was very different from the usual alerts being sent out and that this was something much more serious. Following the school’s directions I just stayed put in my room, texting/calling friends making sure we were all okay and discussing the frightening situation. The first alert was sent out at about 10:30 pm and by now it was starting to approach midnight. My father usually goes to sleep pretty early and my mother lives in Morocco so it was somewhere around 4 am over there when this was all going on so I didn’t bother trying to reach them. I went to bed that night around 2 AM. I woke up around 6 AM to my phone ringing which was my mother calling to make sure I was ok. I then went back to sleep and woke up again to my grandmother, who was in tears, also calling to make sure I was alright, and shortly after, both my uncles did the same. 

I didn’t realize word had spread so fast and that it had made the news overnight. By this time, the police still hadn’t detained the shooter but they did confirm that he was no longer on the grounds after conducting a thorough search throughout the night, allowing them to end the ‘Shelter in Place’ order so people could finally go  to their dorms/apartments. Many people were unlucky and were in various places when the lockdown was first put in place: some in libraries, some in the gym, and some in school buildings. The scariest part of this entire situation to me was how everyone honestly seemed so calm and ‘normal’ through all this. 

The next day, classes were canceled, but everyone I knew pretty much went right back to their daily routines, which just goes to show how common these types of events have become in our country. The gravity of the situation only started to settle around midday when they released images of the victims which allowed me to recognize that these were real people, not just numbers on an alert system. These were students no different than me whose lives were taken in an instant. Once the dust began to settle over the course of the day, students began to voice their irritation toward many of the newspapers and journalists who had visited the university to interview students and take photographs. What’s more, students noted that the shooter had previously announced his possession of a gun and were disappointed with law enforcement for both failing to take any preventative measures as well as taking such a long time to find the suspect. Today, November 15, two days after the shooting, the school has become unusually quiet and eerie. Clark, one of the more popular libraries/study spaces, is almost empty, which is pretty shocking given the reputation of this school and further emphasizes the hole that this shooting has left in the hearts of the students of the University of Virginia.” 

Anna Jones, Class of 2022 (Anna Jones is editor-in-chief Caelan Jones’ older sister)“My roommate, Maria, and I had just walked back from the student mass about 10 minutes before the original email was sent out. We were sitting at our desks, and I checked my email and was somewhat surprised to see UVA alert messages about shots being fired. We tend to get a few emails each month about shots being fired, so I wasn’t too alarmed. However, when we got the message saying ‘RUN HIDE FIGHT,’ I started to worry since I had never seen a message like that. After realizing the severity of the situation my roommate and I got in touch with our families, closed our blinds, and shut off the lights. From there, we spent the next 5 hours looking for updates, listening to the police radio, and texting with other friends at UVA to see if they were okay. I mostly felt shocked and scared. At one point around 1:30, Maria and I decided to finally go to the bathroom. We were filled with fear as we held hands and rushed to the bathroom.

It’s surreal to think now about how my roommate and I were consumed with fear for so many hours. We finally decided to go to sleep around 3am, assuming we would wake up to find out the shooter had been caught. However, we woke up to find that the shooter was still at large and also to dozens of calls and text messages from family and friends. Since then, we have had about 48 hours to process what has happened on the ground. It’s been comforting to see how the community has come together to grieve, honor, and process what has happened. I’m not sure what will happen from here, but I find some solace in the fact that we are not alone.”

Natalie Daniel, Class of 2022

“I was winding down on that Sunday night when my mom sent me a screenshot of the alert. Immediately, I called her and tried to talk through what was happening. I jumped onto social media to see what others were saying and turned on the police scanner for my area for updates. Luckily, I had been home when the shelter in place was mandated, but many people I knew were stuck in libraries and the gym. My roommate and I were home, along with all of my other suitemates. I became upset and really scared listening to the police scanner to the point I had to turn it off. I went to bed around 2 am that night after texting my family that I would be sleeping. My hope was that the suspect would be caught and rumors of fatalities would be proven false by the morning, but reality was worse. When I woke, the police had not caught the suspect and there had been confirmed fatalities. I grew progressively upset and angry; upset that innocent lives were taken and angry that the suspect had not been arrested. 

Once the suspect was caught, I thought my mind would be more at ease, but intense sadness washed over me and the rest of the grounds. It’s devastating, our community is completely heartbroken. Monday night I attended the silent vigil, and while it was a display of unity and support, we are all still grieving. These innocent lives should still be with us. They were sons, teammates, classmates, and a part of our community. UVA will hold the lives of Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry, and Devin Chandler in our hearts forever.”

Kate Tarazi, Class of 2021

“I found out from an alert in my apartment on Sunday night. Luckily my apartment was far away from the place where the shooting happened and all of my roommates were with me. For the most part I was worried about my other friends who live closer to the crime scene and my friends that had to go into lockdown in school buildings like the library. It was a really stressful night for pretty much everyone and it is extremely tragic what happened. However, everyone at UVA has been supporting each other through this hard time.”