May 3 will mark a year since University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love, then a 22-year-old graduating senior, was beaten to death at her off-campus apartment, allegedly by former boyfriend George Huguely V. Then also a UVA senior and a midfielder on the men's lacrosse team, Huguely was indicted last week on first-degree and felony charges for the murder and will stand trial next February.
This is an article from the May 2, 2011 issue
Many stories have been devoted to the alleged killer, his privileged upbringing, his outsized sense of entitlement, his position as a college athlete. And many more will come with the trial, along with, almost certainly, discussions of what this teaches us about the culture of big-time college sports. It would be easy for Love—who never had ambitions of being a star, whose spirited and selfless contributions on the lacrosse field led her teammates to vote her their Unsung Hero—to get lost in the discussion. Except that two people won't let that happen. And that's where the real lesson comes.
Again and again stories have called Love's murder "a family's worst nightmare." Yet that doesn't fully convey the horror. Not for Sharon Love, who was so close to her daughter that neither would go to sleep before phoning the other and ending the call with "I love you." Not for Lexie Love, who was three years older than her sister but often mistaken as her twin. The sisters were so close that after losing their father to cancer in 2003, they shared the same bed, as they had growing up, until Lexie, then a sophomore at Elon, returned to college.
How have they endured? "Staying busy," Sharon and Lexie said in unison last week in their first wide-ranging interview since the murder. That means continuing to go to work every day, Sharon as a teacher in the Baltimore schools, Lexie as an IT specialist. But they've also made full-time jobs out of what they call "honoring [Yeardley's] memory."
Last summer the Love family established the One Love Foundation, a nod to Yeardley's lacrosse uniform number. The donations poured in, hundreds of thousands of dollars to date. So it is that the lacrosse teams at Notre Dame Prep in Towson, Md.—which Yeardley, Lexie and Sharon all attended—will one day play their games on the Yeardley Reynolds Love Field. An entering ninth-grader at Notre Dame will spend the next four years at the school all tuition paid, thanks to the Yeardley Reynolds Love Scholarship. Later this month one male and one female ACC lacrosse player will be honored with the inaugural Yeardley Reynolds Love Unsung Hero Award. The foundation is also working to start a lacrosse program for underprivileged kids.
If the Loves have seen the worst in humanity, they're adamant that they've also witnessed the best. The lacrosse association in Thailand that volunteered to be international ambassadors for the foundation. The trio in Virginia who rallied a team to run a road race in Love's honor. They had hoped to raise $5,000; they ended up with $65,000. The strangers who have written letters and e-mails. "I'm not sure people realize how much little things help, how much of a difference it's made in our lives," says Sharon, dressed all in black, save for a blue rubber One Love bracelet.
The Loves learned that there's nothing linear about grief. It doesn't diminish in proportion to time. The holidays were tough. So was Yeardley's birthday on July 17. On the other hand they say their best days come when they're hosting an event or talking to a partner of the foundation. One week it's the Every Yard for Yeardley charity run. Another it's attending a ceremony at UVA retiring Yeardley's uniform number. "Days that take your mind off the negative," says Lexie. "They remind us of the good she brought into this world."
What the family doesn't do is bitterness. It's a territory they simply refuse to visit. Neither Sharon nor Lexie will discuss the alleged killer. Neither Sharon nor Lexie read media accounts or have watched any television coverage. "It doesn't change anything," says Sharon. "It drags you down, so why get into that?" They've both done a sort of emotional calculus: Is this helping my grief or honoring Yeardley? "It's a lot of What Would Yeards Do?" says Lexie. Adds Sharon, "Nothing good comes from not being positive."
They'll be challenged anew when the trial begins in February. In addition to portraying the defendant as profoundly drunk at the time—thus casting doubt on the premeditation required for a first-degree murder conviction—defense lawyers are likely to paint an unflattering picture of Love. During a preliminary hearing on April 11 in Charlottesville, Sharon left the courtroom before any graphic details about how Yeardley was killed were read in court. Still, they'll both be back for the trial. "Just something else we need to get through," says Lexie. "We're not going to back down from anything."
On May 3 they'll commemorate the most unpleasant of anniversaries, surrounded by an army of friends, family and former teammates of Yeardley's. The priest who presided over the funeral last year will conduct a mass. They'll repair to the home Yeardley grew up in and eat a dinner of her favorite foods: filet, crab cakes and mashed potatoes. Then they'll stay up late and share memories, stories and tissues in equal measure. Yeardley Love may have been murdered, but in their dignified way a mother and a sister—the unsung heroes of this tragedy—will be damned if her memory gets snuffed out too.
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To find out more about the One Love Foundation, go to joinonelove.org