One conversation with A.J., 9, underscored for Elliott the pain of unimaginable loss. It was when A.J. told his father that he understood Davis was not coming back.
“The tough part of this is my boys and my 9-year-old,” Elliott said Tuesday afternoon, choking back tears, his voice cracking, then trailing off. “I mean, he considers these guys his friends, and that’s what’s tough, and every time I see him, I think about the 125 guys that I got, and that’s how their moms see them.
“We’re taking it one day at a time, trying to teach a 9-year-old about the reality of life on a level that he can understand it. We’re just putting our arms around him, loving him, supporting him and trying to teach him as much as he can comprehend.”
The visceral emotions from those moments have spilled over into the locker room, where Elliott spoke in person with all his players for the first time Monday morning shortly after a shelter-in-place order had been lifted.
Elliott had to pause to collect himself Tuesday in relaying some of the details of that address at the school’s football facility, adding no decision has been reached as to whether the Cavaliers will play their final home game of the season Saturday against Coastal Carolina.
“We’ll make it together,” Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams said about the decision. “It’ll be a discussion with Coach and the team. Obviously, they’re going through a lot. We want to make sure they’re involved as well, and so we’ll use our best judgment, but it’ll be soon. We’ll make a decision soon.”
Elliott arrived roughly 15 minutes late for Tuesday’s news conference, marking his first public statements since the tragedy, because he was at the hospital visiting Michael Hollins Jr. The junior running back had a bullet removed after being shot in his back, underwent a second surgery Tuesday and is off a ventilator, according to his father, Mike Sr.
Elliott declined to provide an update on Hollins, but according to a person with knowledge of his situation, the prognosis is positive, although Hollins remains in serious condition. Hollins’s mother, Brenda, meanwhile, has been posting updates about her son on social media.
Neither Elliott, hired in December following the sudden and unexpected resignation of Bronco Mendenhall, nor Williams addressed in-depth what, if any, relationship the accused shooter, a walk-on for a semester in 2018, according to Williams, had with the slain or current team members.
Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, was arrested Monday and charged with three counts of second-degree murder.
“I don’t believe — there was no overlap,” Williams said of Jones’s time on the team and those of Davis, Perry and Chandler, a transfer from Wisconsin. “So I don’t know if there was any interaction outside of the class.”
Jones had joined about 25 other students Sunday on a school trip to Washington, where they attended a play and ate together, the university’s chief of police, Timothy Longo Sr., said Monday at a news conference. When the students returned to campus, Jones allegedly opened fire about 10:30 p.m. Sunday for reasons that remain unknown.
The elder Hollins said officials told him Jones brought the gun onto the bus, waited until returning to campus and began shooting.
“We have really focused on our players and their families,” Williams said. “It’s so shocking that you just want to love on our players, so that’s what we’ve — that’s where we’ve spent our energies. That’s where we’ve spent our time. I think that’s what we need to continue to do.”
Elliott and Williams spoke for approximately half an hour in the media workroom at John Paul Jones Arena before departing to be with players and staff members to plan the next steps, both on the field and with regard to the logistics of getting an entire team to memorial services.
Williams indicated the NCAA rules for attending such events are “permissive,” providing a great deal of latitude for players to travel and receive compensation for expenses.
“My initial thoughts are to be sensitive to whatever the young men desire to do as it relates to their teammates,” Elliott said. “Per Carla’s response from an NCAA standpoint, I won’t stand in the way of that because this is way bigger than football. This is a life situation here.”
Nick Anderson, William Wan, Laura Vozzella, John Woodrow Cox, Justin Jouvenal, Karina Elwood, Susan Svrluga, Emily Davies and Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.