One of the three University of Virginia football players shot dead as they returned from a field trip last month was on the phone with his mother just before the shooting, she told NBC.
D’Sean Perry, 22, had been talking to his mom, Happy Perry, but “his cell phone had gone dead,” his mother told “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” in an interview aired Wednesday.
“I had just gotten off the phone with him,” Happy Perry told the program, before pausing and then repeating as tears fell: “I had just gotten off the phone with him.”
“I’m broken,” she said.
The comments came on a week D’Sean Perry’s parents were making their first rounds of interviews since their son and two of his teammates were killed November 13. A fellow student opened fire on the bus as it returned to campus from a class field trip to Washington, DC, killing D’Sean Perry, Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis Jr. and injuring two other students, authorities said.
In a news conference Thursday, the parents called for changes to gun laws, and for college football athletes to advocate for those changes as well as for mental health issues.
“(College athletes) can stand with us with gun laws – make a statement – and just let them know that they’re behind us,” D’Sean’s father, Sean Perry, told reporters in Coral Gables, Florida, near where the family lives.
“(We want) to make sure another family will never, never go through this again,” Sean Perry said.
The holidays have provided difficult reminders of their loss, Happy Perry said.
“We were trying to put up the Christmas tree to give a little bit of hope in the house. D’Sean was 6-foot-5, so he was always our tree topper,” the mother said Thursday.
“So we would wait until he comes home, because he was playing football, to put the tree topper on. So that really was … a moment for me, because I couldn’t grasp that he is not here.”
The UVA attack was among more than 620 mass shootings this year in the US – including last month at a Virginia grocery store and an LGBTQ club in Colorado – and one of more than 75 shootings on school campuses in 2022, according to tallies by CNN and the Gun Violence Archive; mass shootings involve at least four wounded, not including the shooter.
The suspect in the University of Virginia shooting, former UVA walk-on football player Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., faces three charges of second-degree murder and three counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony, authorities said. Jones also faces two counts of malicious wounding, each accompanied by a firearm charge.
D’Sean Perry, a Miami native and a fourth-year student majoring in studio art and African American and African studies, was a linebacker on the football team. The university posthumously awarded him and the two other slain football players degrees in early December.
At Thursday’s news conference, the Perrys said they want tighter gun control laws.
“The red flags were there, and (the suspect) was still able to purchase a firearm,” Happy Perry said.
Jones was twice denied in his attempts to buy firearms – once in 2018 because he was under the legal purchasing age of 21 to buy a handgun, and once in 2021 due to a pending criminal charge, Dance’s Sporting Goods owner Marlon Dance has said.
But he was able to legally purchase firearms this year – a rifle in February and a 9mm pistol in July – Dance has said. It is unclear whether either of those weapons were used in the November shooting.
This year’s purchases were not prohibited because a court reduced the pending charge to a misdemeanor in October 2021, the Virginia State Police have said.
Jones last year was charged and convicted of a reckless driving and hit and run, and had a concealed weapons charge. He received suspended sentences for all of the offenses.
The Perrys also believe the University of Virginia should have kicked Jones off campus before the shooting, citing a university investigation into the student that already was under way, a Florida attorney said at the news conference.
“(The university) could have removed him from campus well before this incident,” the Coral Gables attorney Michael Haggard said.
Before the shooting, Jones was the subject of a pending, gun-related case with the university’s judicial council, officials have said.
In that case, a student reported in September that Jones “made a comment to him about possessing a gun,” though that person did not see Jones possess a gun, university spokesperson Brian Coy has said. Jones “repeatedly refused to cooperate with University officials” and his case was escalated in October for further review and possible disciplinary action, Coy has said.
The school also was looking into Jones’ “failure to disclose” his misdemeanor conviction to school officials, Coy has said.
The school’s judicial council took over the case, and the results were pending when the shooting happened, Timothy Longo, the school’s police chief, said.
CNN’s request to the University of Virginia for comment about the parents’ news conference Thursday wasn’t immediately answered.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has said he would commission an external review of events that led to the shooting, at the university’s request.
Also this week, a student injured in the attack recalled having “locked eyes” with the gunman before he was shot, he told ABC.
“We locked eyes and that was it,” Mike Hollins, a University of Virginia football player hurt in the attack, told ABC’s Michael Strahan in an interview aired Thursday. “It was just a cold look.”
“Once I got up and the bus was stopping is when the gunshots, you know, started ringing out. In that moment I, I knew we had to, you know, get off that bus ‘cause it could get a lot worse,” Hollins told ABC.
“Me and another teammate were the only two to get off the bus, and I turned back and I look over my shoulder and I realize, you know, we’re the only two running,” Hollins said.
Hollins turned around to help others, and that’s when he came face to face with the shooter, he told ABC.
“I didn’t really think much in that moment, it was just, literally, an instinct and a reaction to go back,” he told ABC.
The gunman said “nothing at all,” recalled Hollins, who eventually turned around and “took off running.”
He was shot. “I felt him hit me in my back,” Hollins said.
Hollins encountered a pre-med student who helped keep him calm and “kept my breathing under control – was checking my pulse until the ambulance came,” he said.
Hollins didn’t know the shooter before that but had seen him that morning prior to the field trip, he said, adding he’d “looked normal.”
“I didn’t know him. I didn’t know him at all.”
Hollins, who was hospitalized for days, learned about the deaths of his teammates days after the shooting.
“I’ve never cried like that before,” Hollins told ABC. “I mean, I lost a brother that day. I love Lavel with all my heart, love Devin with all my heart. But D’Sean – it was different with him.”
“That was my brother,” Hollins said, getting visibly emotional. “It was tragic hearing that he was gone.”