Why did Chris Jones pull the trigger? He was a top student, but troubled young man
Chris Jones had a chance to escape the difficult upbringing that had him shuttling back and forth between living with his mother, father and grandmother in public housing in Petersburg.
But Jones, who faces three second-degree murder charges in the Nov. 13 mass shooting that took the lives of three UVA football student-athletes, ultimately couldn’t escape himself.
Much has been made – too much – about Jones being a former UVA Football player himself. Truth is he was with the program for just a few weeks as a first-year student, and because of injuries was never able to practice with the team, and was not a member of the team in preseason camp or during the 2018 season.
Jones, who turned 23 in jail last week, after the shooting that took the lives of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, and wounded two other students, football student-athlete Mike Hollins and Marlee Morgan, wasn’t a standout on the gridiron.
Yes, he had been an honorable mention all-conference player as a senior at Petersburg High School, but he didn’t earn a recruiting grade from any of the national recruiting services as a senior in 2017-2018.
The 2018 UVA recruiting class would bring several names recognizable to Cavaliers fans – QB Brennan Armstrong, wideout Billy Kemp, tight end Grant Misch, offensive linemen Bobby Haskins, Derek Devine and Joe Bissinger, linebacker Noah Taylor.
Those guys were all on athletics scholarships. But Jones, according to a story in his hometown newspaper, was at UVA on an academic scholarship.
And after football, he found a place in Greek life on Grounds, joining the Eta Sigma chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, becoming its president and polemarch in the 2020-2021 school year.
In an interview for a Feb. 25, 2021 story in the Cavalier Daily, Jones offered a glimpse into how far he’d come from his childhood in public housing, and also how far he still had to go.
“I was bullied a lot, and that caused me to distance myself from people,” Jones told the student paper. “And as I got older, I realized that a lot of things in life I can’t do by myself, so I decided when I got to college, I was going to find a group of people like-minded, driven about achievement. And I found it. I found Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated.”
Jones had also been interviewed for another newspaper feature, back in 2018, as he was set to graduate high school, and he recounted for the reporter that he’d had trouble adjusting after his parents’ divorce in 2005, and had a history of getting into fights in school that led him to serving out several suspensions.
Family and friends interviewed in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 murders have painted a picture of a young man who would go out of his way to help friends, but also felt he had been bullied throughout high school and college and had been nearing a “breaking point” for some time.
We have learned since the shootings that he had attempted to buy a gun from a Colonial Heights gun store as early as 2018, but was denied because of his age, and that in 2021, he was arrested after being pulled over by police on a vehicle registration issue, and was found to have a gun that he told the arresting officer he had purchased for $500 for protection.
A UVA student reported to school administration this year that Jones had said he had a gun, but the report didn’t note that Jones had connected that statement to a threat, and when Jones refused to cooperate with investigators looking into the claim, school officials dropped that matter, instead putting in motion a referral to a student-run judicial review committee to investigate Jones for failing to report his convictions on the gun charge and two unrelated charges to the University as required.
There is so much to unwrap here. Jones was at the same time a bright student and a troubled young adult, who was accepted enough by his peers to become the president of his fraternity, and yet felt he was bullied and needed to buy guns to be able to protect himself.
None of this, unfortunately, answers the question, Why did he pull the trigger?
But we may be getting closer.