The alleged gunman stayed to himself during the class trip.
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. didn’t talk much to the other University of Virginia students Sunday as they rode a bus together to Washington to see a play and go out for Ethiopian food afterward, one student said Tuesday.
Most in the group, which included five U-Va. football players, didn’t know Jones, who’d briefly played football himself in 2018. Jones wasn’t in their African-American theater class, said Ryan Lynch, a 19-year-old neuroscience major, but he’d been invited along by their professor because he was taking a social-justice class with her.
Jones, 22, sat apart in D.C.’s Mosaic Theater as the two dozen or so students watched a play about Emmett Till, whose young life was cut short by racial violence.
On the long bus ride back to Charlottesville – while others chatted about the powerful play they had just seen and moved around the bus, laughing and bonding – Jones remained in the back.
Lynch, a sophomore from Philadelphia, had met Jones only once before. She and Jones had both tried out to be runway models for a group on campus called Fashion for a Cause. Neither had ended up joining that fall. Seeing him alone at the back, Lynch said, she went to talk with him and make sure he felt included.
“You should try to do [Fashion for a Cause] again with me in the spring,” she remembers saying to him. She returned to her seat toward the front of the bus.
They were pulling up to the parking garage next to the Culbreth Theatre building when the shooting began.
At first, Lynch said, she thought it was a balloon or an overinflated bag of chips popping. But her ears wouldn’t stop ringing. Then she smelled the smoke.
Gunpowder, she realized, as she ducked to the floor and tried to hide by pulling a jacket and blanket over her head. The gunshots kept coming, until they suddenly stopped.
Lynch peeked out from under her jacket and watched as someone strode down the aisle.
It was Jones in the burgundy sweatshirt he’d been wearing all day, Lynch said. He was walking slowly with an odd kind of swagger toward the bus door. Once he got outside, she heard more gunshots being fired.
She heard others shouting: “Get off the bus! We have to get off.”
But as she stood, she saw Lavel Davis Jr., a 6-foot-7 wide receiver on the football team, laying facedown in the middle of the bus aisle.
They had grown close that semester in theater class. Just minutes before, Davis had been charging his cellphone using her computer charger and talking about how excited he was to be able to play football again after recovering from a concussion.
Now, she could see blood seeping from a bullet wound to his head.
She and a friend rushed to Davis’s side. Her friend took his pulse. It was faint. They started doing CPR, talking to him all the while. Lynch said she didn’t want him to die. And if he did, she didn’t want him feeling alone and abandoned.
“We’re trying to get you help, Lavel,” she said she told him. “We’re calling you an ambulance.”
They heard their professor, Theresa Davis, yelling: “Get off the bus. We have to get off the bus.”
Lynch suddenly realized they could still be in danger. She and others ran into the drama building.
As several of them hid in one of the bathrooms, they called 911 over and over. And they began trying to understand what had just happened and why.
At U-Va. on Tuesday, thousands of students were struggling to make sense of the shooting that left three football players dead and a fourth seriously wounded. One female student was injured, too.
Jones, who’d sent the campus into lockdown for 12 hours, was arrested Monday after a massive manhunt. Now charged with three counts of second-degree murder, his motive remains unknown.
Theresa Davis, the professor who taught Jones and the three football players he’s accused of killing, did not respond to Washington Post requests for an interview.
The fifth football player on the trip – the only one unharmed – said he wasn’t ready to talk about what had happened on the bus.
Lynch, who recently transferred to U-Va. from Hampton University, is the only witness who has spoken publicly.
She said there were about 20 students in the African American theater class. On a predominantly White campus, one thing that made the course feel special was that a majority of the class was Black.
Their professor, Lynch said, was charismatic and the material compelling – plays written during the civil rights movement, literature on identity, resistance and survival like “Native Son” and “A Raisin in the Sun.”
The students had grown close over the course of the semester. When their professor told them about the field trip she had planned for them, they were ecstatic.
As a transfer student, Lynch didn’t know many people on campus. But she’d become especially close to the football players in the theater class, including all three who were killed: Davis, Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry.
“They were always so nice, caring and supportive to me and everyone,” she said through tears Tuesday.
The night before the bus trip to D.C., the football team was playing a game against the University of Pittsburgh, so Lynch worried that her friends might miss the trip or be too tired to attend. But when it was time to get on the bus at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, the football players were already waiting with smiles on their faces, Lynch recalled.
Their professor had gotten funding to pay for the entire trip – food, transportation, theater tickets, everything. And she had invited students from her other classes to join as well, which is how Jones wound up on the bus.
“No one really knew him at all. But everyone was welcoming and nice. People talked to him, or tried to. It was such a warm group,” Lynch said.
They arrived at the Mosaic Theater on H Street in Northeast Washington for the 3 p.m. performance of “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” the first in a trilogy about the 1955 lynching that helped spark the civil rights movement.
While almost everyone from U-Va. sat together, Lynch said, Jones chose a seat near the front, among the general audience attending the matinee.
After the play, the professor took the class to a restaurant called Ethiopic, where she had reserved four tables on the patio to sample huge platters of Ethiopian food.
Lynch, another female student and the football players sat at one table. Jones sat at another with other students, she said.
By the time they boarded the bus to go home, almost everyone was buzzing with excitement about the food and the stunning play.
“It was really powerful, we had never seen anything like it,” she said. “It got everyone talking on the ride back, about the play. It was a real bonding experience.”
Lynch spent much of the 21/2-hour ride talking at the front of the bus with a friend and some of the football players.
Mike Hollins, who was later shot but survived, helped Lynch with her statistics homework.
Chandler connected his phone to the bus’s speakers and blasted the new Drake album, Lynch said. Professor Davis raised her eyebrows jokingly at some of the songs’ curse words.
“Don’t worry! I got a song for you,” Chandler told her, as he switched to old-school R&B.
Davis started dancing in her seat.
The football players talked about their NFL aspirations, promising to give Lynch and others on the trip signed jerseys when they made it.
Lynch told them about her plans to go to medical school, then confessed her desire to be a broadcast journalist.
“You should do it,” the players encouraged. “You would be so good at it.”
As the bus neared Charlottesville, four of the players headed to the back to use the bathroom.
Since the shooting, Lynch has replayed those last moments in her mind, trying to figure out what happened.
Others on the bus told her they heard Jones yell before opening fire – “Something to the effect of, ‘You guys are always messing with me,'” she said. “But that doesn’t make sense because no one was really talking to him the whole trip.”
In a phone interview, Michael Hollins Sr. said his son – still recovering in the hospital – told him that Jones asked one of the players about a video game before opening fire.
Lynch has been haunted by the image of her friends – Leval, D’Sean and Devin – as they lay bleeding on the bus.
“They were so caring and amazing to me, to everyone in that class,” she said. “The one thing that gives me comfort is I know each one of them had somebody in our class trying to help them. I want their families to know that. In their last moments, they weren’t alone.”
The Washington Post’s Keith L. Alexander, Alice Crites, Susan Svrluga, Justin Jouvenal and Emily Davies contributed to this report.