UVA student journalists reflect on shooting that killed their classmates

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Posted at 6:12 PM, Nov 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 13:55:12-05

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Ava MacBlane, the Editor-in-Chief of The Cavalier Daily student newspaper at the University of Virginia, remembers well the day three classmates were killed in an on-campus shooting.

"I was not awake and I woke up the next morning at like 4 a.m. to like hundreds of text messages," MacBlane recalled about the Sunday night tragedy that spilled into the next morning.

Last November, three young men were shot and killed on a bus that had just returned to the UVA campus after a school field trip. Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis and D'sean Perry were all members of the UVA football team.

With the shooting suspect still at large, some UVA student journalists started gathering information from sources, classmates, administrators, police to report and update the terrible news.

MacBlane, then managing editor of the Cavalier Daily, recalled the emotions of the day.

"You're doing your job and then you're also like a student who's seeing this happening to other students and having to grieve and process while also doing a job that doesn't like have a lot of room for that," she said. "Something like this, which really rocks the entire community, it at least forced me to take a step back and think about what is our role as student journalists. How do you tell a really hard story that affects everybody, and beyond that, everybody in the Charlottesville community?"

On the grieving campus, MacBlane said she heard from students who did not want to share their pain with the news media from national outlets who she said would arrive on Grounds and leave after their initial reports.

"We don't walk away from something like this. This is something we sit with every day. And we'll continue to sit with them and we will continue to report on," she said. "It's made me more empathetic to the overlap of how difficult it is to be someone dealing with pain and then have to share that with someone who maybe is not always respectful, or who is going to sit with you and give you the time."

For Duncan McGrath, the sports director for campus television station WUVA, the shock and grieving quickly brought a new perspective to his work that might have included after-game interviews of the very athletes who were killed.

"These are people that I would see playing football every week when I go to Scott Stadium and also people I would see walking around on campus," he said. "It makes me feel like they're more human, I would say and really understanding and sympathizing with their, their human side, from the athletes. I would say that's probably the biggest thing, at least for me just recognizing that these are human beings."

One year after that awful night at UVA, both student journalists said they've learned how to provide comfort even as their work continues.

"I think everyone at UVA really came together. That includes faculty and the people in the community, I think it was really a unifying state of mourning and grieving that I think has carried over into this year," McGrath said.

"How do we continue to report and talk about it as things like the anniversary come around in ways that are still honoring Lavel and D'Sean and Devin," MacBlane said. "And thinking about the pain and the grief that people are still feeling and grappling with."

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