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UVA victim’s mom: ‘Something could have been done to prevent this’

Crystal Graham
uva rotunda
(© Bram – stock.adobe.com)

When there is a mass shooting like the one at the University of Virginia in November, the public outcry often leads to a united voice for gun control efforts and a demand for changes in existing legislation.

The parents of D’Sean Perry, one of the victims of the shooting at UVA, want change to happen at UVA – but also believe there is potential for change to happen on a broader scale.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Happy and Sean Perry said they will advocate for changes in gun laws and mental health awareness. They are asking college athletes to use their voice to extend the reach of their message.

“I just don’t want any mother, father, family, sister, brother, aunt, uncle to have to go through what we’re going through right now,” Happy Perry said. “If my voice can help – then that’s a start.

“We just want to bring awareness to mental health, and we want to open up the eyes, hearts and minds of the college football world and asked that they join us in this fight for gun control.”

D’Sean’s father, Sean, asked for other students and college athletes to help get the word out.

“We’ve got to stand by each other right now. That’s what we need right now.”

Guns on grounds at UVA

The shooter, Chris Jones, a student at UVA, was on the school’s radar before the shooting happened. Another student reported that Jones had told them he had a gun. While the school asked questions, ultimately, no actions were taken to suspend Jones from the University, or to attempt to obtain a search warrant to remove the potential guns from his college dorm room.

“Once they found out all that information, he should have been suspended, or put off campus,” Happy Perry said. “I feel like something could have been done to prevent this.”

The Nov. 14 search of Jones’ room found a semi-automatic rifle, semi-automatic pistol, nearly 60 rounds of ammunition and other gun magazines and armory tools.

The University of Virginia prohibits guns on University grounds. The policy reads in part: “The possession, storage, or use of any weapon by any University student, faculty, employee, contractor, trainee, or volunteer is prohibited on University property. This prohibition also applies regardless of whether a person has a concealed weapon permit.”

According to the UVA policy, “failure to comply with the requirements of this policy may result in denied entry, removal from University Property, and/or disciplinary action up to and including termination and expulsion in accordance with relevant University policies.”

If the report of the gun had been more thoroughly investigated, it’s possible Jones would have been expelled from UVA, and therefore, may have prevented the eventual death of three student athletes.

UVA has requested an external review of the shooting and events leading up to it.

“As we continue to mourn the loss of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry, we are committed to working with the special counsel team to learn as much as we can about this event and the circumstances that led to it, and to apply those lessons to keep our community safe,” UVA President Jim Ryan said.

Education associations demand ‘a stop to this madness’

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 628 mass shootings this year in the United States.

The Virginia Education Association and National Education Association released a statement after the shootings at UVA. In their statement, they demand elected leaders to speak up for students and communities – instead of gun lobbies.

“Classrooms and campuses should be safe havens where young people feel welcomed and where learning is celebrated. We are brokenhearted about the lost lives and the trauma for the students and educators who survived this terrible event and will continue to feel its effects for years to come.

“We are also angry. The gun violence at the University of Virginia comes just days after another shooting at Ingraham High School in Seattle. We can best honor the victims of this shooting — and Uvalde, Oxford, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and far too many other schools — by demanding a stop to this madness. To abide by the senseless deaths of students means abandoning hope for tomorrow.

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. They do not capture the heartache, grief, or anger we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America – tomorrow, next week, or a couple of months from now.

“We stand in sorrowful solidarity with the victims of this crime and all those who mourn them. And we challenge every politician who plans to offer thoughts and prayers instead to provide effective leadership that makes it harder for murderers to obtain and carry the weapons used in these acts of violence. We challenge elected leaders at every level across the country to no longer side with the gun lobby and instead speak up for the students and communities who are caught up in the preventable epidemic of gun violence. The time is now – before this happens again.

“Our students and their families, as well as our colleagues and our communities, deserve safe schools. We all deserve leaders who value our lives over their campaign contributions.”

Moms Demand Action: ‘We don’t have to accept this sad reality’

The UVA shooting is just the latest in a number of shootings and/or violence on or near the grounds of a college or university in Virginia.

Earlier this year, in Harrisonburg, eight people were shot and wounded near James Madison University, and a late-night shooting occurred near Virginia Tech that left one person dead and four injured. Bridgewater College also dealt with gun violence when a former student killed two officers on campus in February. In 2017, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville led to the death of a 32-year-old. And in 2007, Virginia Tech experienced one of the worst mass shootings in history when an undergraduate student shot and killed 32 students.

Since 2013, there have been more than 300 shootings on the grounds of a college or university.

The Virginia chapters of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s network, also called on legislators to pass commonsense gun laws following the shooting at UVA.

“Right now, college students should be worried about midterms and traveling home for the holidays, not getting shot — but this terrible tragedy at the University of Virginia is yet another reminder that no campus is safe from America’s gun violence crisis,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors of this terrible tragedy, and we will honor their loss by redoubling our efforts to pass commonsense gun laws.”

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said the entire campus community at UVA is forever traumatized by this horrific shooting.

“We don’t have to accept this sad reality that nowhere is safe from gun violence,” Watts said. “We must continue to demand action from our elected leaders so we can prevent senseless violence and help save lives.”

Gretchen Browne, a volunteer with the Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action, said she is heartbroken for the families of the victims at UVA.

“It is not normal to routinely respond to gun violence at the rate we do in this country,” Browne said. “We must move away from the refrain of thoughts and prayers to actually being heartbroken enough to proactively fight for commonsense gun safety laws and finally sever the ties between the gun lobby and our lawmakers.”

In an average year in Virginia, 1,065 people die by guns and 1,911 people are wounded. Gun violence costs Virginia $14.2 billion each year, of which $288.3 million is paid by taxpayers, according to Everytown.

The reach of each mass shooting stretches far beyond those killed and wounded, harming the well-being of survivors, their families and entire communities.

“It’s unacceptable that students on campuses across the country have faced the same trauma that UVA students are experiencing right now,” said Megan Westerman, a volunteer with Students Demand Action in Virginia. “Leaders at every level have to step up and act to keep our campus communities safe from gun violence.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.