There are no seniors at the University of Virginia. The school's founder, Thomas Jefferson, believed that a "senior" level of knowledge is unattainable, that learning is a lifelong process. So students in their final two semesters are referred to as "fourth years." It's a quaint UVA tradition, one of many, but it also hints at deeper truths: Even the oldest undergraduates are novice adults, full of promise yet not fully formed. And some events in life are beyond comprehension.
This was thrown into devastating relief in Charlottesville last week as the school reeled from an unfathomable tragedy, the death of one 22-year-old student-athlete at the hands of another. Instantly the elegant campus—the Grounds, Jefferson called it—was transformed. Students who had been preparing for final exams and delighting in the gorgeous spring weather walked around as if in a trance.
"Shock is the prevalent emotion," says student-body president Colin Hood. Campus landmarks that had recently hosted concerts and ice cream socials were being used for memorials and candlelight vigils. Streets that had been lined only with azaleas and rhododendrons were choked with television satellite trucks. Every outlet from ESPN to Inside Edition had arrived in pastoral Virginia to report a heartbreaking story that blended sports, privilege, love and death.
Perhaps the most profound change was felt by the school's varsity lacrosse programs, which had spent the late winter and early spring celebrating victory after victory. The men's team, which had a 2010 record of 14--1, won the ACC tournament and ended the regular season ranked first in the nation; the women, 13--5, had nearly beaten five-time defending national champion Northwestern on the road and were rated fifth. Players had discussed how cool it would be if both teams won national titles. Yet early last week the teams canceled practice to grieve.
When they resumed working out on Thursday, nine days before the NCAA championships were to begin, the women were missing the speedy and clever defender whose exuberance had made some describe her as the heart of the team, and the men were without the burly midfielder who, ironically enough, had been described in game programs as one of the Cavaliers— fiercest attackers. And both groups were groping to understand what had just happened and why.
Sunday night was usually a social night for the UVA lacrosse teams. Sunday Funday, the players call it. On Sunday, May 2, Yeardley Love, a fourth-year defender on the women's team, was at Boylan Heights, a popular campus burger bar, before walking back to her apartment two blocks away. At around two in the morning Love's roommate and teammate, Caitlin Whitely, and Whitely's friend Phillippe Oudshoorn, a UVA tennis player, entered the apartment and found Love facedown in her bed and unresponsive. They called 911. The police arrived and, on turning Love over, saw a pool of blood beneath her head, bruises on her face and her right eye swollen shut—the result of "blunt force trauma," accordingly to police reports. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The investigation quickly led police to the nearby apartment of George Huguely, a letterman on the men's lacrosse team. Huguely, a fourth year with male-model looks, had dated Love, but they had recently broken up. After being taken to Charlottesville police headquarters, Huguely waived his Miranda rights and offered chilling details of his assault on Love. According to an affidavit, he stated that he kicked open Love's locked bedroom door; he then "shook Love, and her head repeatedly hit the wall." (Before his bio was removed from the UVA athletics website, the 6'2" Huguely was listed at 209 pounds, almost twice Love's estimated weight.) Huguely also disclosed that he left Love's apartment carrying her laptop with the intention of disposing of it.
Barely four hours after Love's body was discovered, police charged Huguely with first-degree murder. There were no other suspects. Huguely was taken from the police station and is now in a four-by-eight cell in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. His bail hearing is not scheduled until next month, by which time the police should have his toxicology report. Huguely's lawyer, Francis Lawrence, asserted last week, "We are confident that Miss Love's death was not intended, but an accident with a tragic outcome."
Last Wednesday detectives confiscated from Huguely's apartment two white Apple laptop computers, a green spiral notebook, two white socks, a bathroom rug, a shower curtain, an entryway rug, a pair of blue cargo shorts, a polo shirt and a Virginia lacrosse shirt stained red. Authorities are particularly interested in threatening e-mails and texts that Huguely allegedly sent Love after their breakup. "We're trying to corroborate [prior threats] through as many sources as we can," says Charlottesville police chief Timothy Longo. Earlier in the semester Huguely and Love reportedly had a violent encounter on campus that was broken up by several visiting University of North Carolina lacrosse players. An unnamed former student told the New York Daily News that the couple's breakup had been precipitated by an incident in which a drunken Huguely attacked Love and later couldn't recall having hit her.
Love's death puts a microscope on the underreported domestic violence among college students. While national statistics are hard to come by, the issue seems disproportionately to implicate athletes. Many of the qualities that make campuses so attractive—freedom, trust, community—also make them "a paradise for stalkers," says Amy Barasch, executive director of New York State's Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Students' class schedules, practice times and contact information are easily obtained. Young men and women who have been involved romantically and have broken up live in close proximity. Security is less than airtight. (Love's front door was unlocked when Huguely entered her apartment.) "We think of stalking—the red flag for domestic violence—as the guy in a trenchcoat in an alley," says Barasch. "No, it looks like 100 text messages or someone [lurking around] a classroom or dorm room.