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Love Story

Years after the death of Yeardley Love, her family works tirelessly to honor her memory.

With wooden bird feeders swinging from the trees and a pair of well-worn Adirondack chairs perfectly positioned on her front lawn, Sharon Love’s Cockeysville home is a beacon of pastoral quietude. And yet, this peaceful place is the very same spot where her life was shattered early in the morning of May 3, 2010, when Baltimore County Police parked their patrol cars in the circular driveway, arrived at this wreath-decorated front door and informed Sharon that her youngest daughter, 22-year-old Yeardley Reynolds Love—then a senior at University of Virginia—had been found dead in her Charlottesville, VA, apartment.

Years later, sitting on a white sofa in the sun-filled sitting room of her home, Sharon recalls the morning she learned of her daughter’s death, taking an audible breath as she recounts her story.

“I couldn’t figure out why the police were here,” says Sharon, softly, with her dog, Bandit, and daughter Lexie, Yeardley’s older sister, by her side. “I thought maybe the dog had been out barking and the neighbors had complained. I was trying to make sense of something—and then after I opened the door, they asked me if I was Yeardley’s mother, and, literally, it was all a blank after that.”

Equally numbing was the revelation that Yeardley’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, fellow UVA student and All-American lacrosse player George Huguely V, was a primary suspect. By February 2012, Huguely, who had broken into Yeardley’s bedroom and attacked her, shaking her as her head repeatedly hit a wall, was convicted of second-degree murder. That August, Huguely was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

“It wasn’t a car accident, it wasn’t drinking, it wasn’t any of those reasons,” says Lexie. “It was some guy you thought would never do something like this.”

With Huguely now behind bars, Sharon has tried to put thoughts of the man who murdered her daughter out of her mind.

“I try not to even think about George Huguely,” Sharon says. “It doesn’t do me any good. It would be a stepping backward rather than forward.”

These days, both mother and daughter, who co-founded the One Love Foundation just one month after Yeardley’s death, are moving forward. Until recently, Sharon and Lexie have had more of a behind-the-scenes presence with One Love (the “One” represents Yeardley’s jersey number during her high-school and college lacrosse careers), and have been largely silent, especially about the subject of relationship violence, for fear that their words would be used against them in court.

But with the trial over now, Sharon and Lexie have shifted their focus toward prevention of domestic violence—if it could happen to Yeardley, they say, it could happen to anyone.

Before and during the trial, “we couldn’t address violence,” says Sharon, “and we really didn’t want to.”

In fact, prior to learning more about the subject, Sharon and Lexie did not think of Yeardley as a victim of violence. (The number of women who are impacted is staggering: According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, relationship violence affects more than one in every three women in the United States.)

“We felt like Yeardley didn’t fall into that category because when you think of that, you think of someone who takes it and stays in it,” says Sharon. “She didn’t put up with anything—once she found out he was seeing someone else, she ended it.”

But sitting through the proceedings of Huguely’s trial convinced the women that they should broaden One Love’s mission, whose initial focus was to emphasize the positive aspects of Yeardley’s life (and not the tawdry details of her death), from her humility to her good sportsmanship.

With the trial finally over, Sharon and Lexie realized that educating others about relationship violence was key to honoring Yeardley’s memory.

“When they were picking the jury in Charlottesville,” says Sharon, “one in three jurors who were interviewed had been touched by relationship violence. That was amazing because you can hear ‘one in three,’ but once I saw it, it had a much stronger impact. We realized we had to get out and do something because we had the platform. We were ready to address relationship violence by the time the trial was over. We wanted to know that Yeardley didn’t die in vain.”

Last fall, the foundation unveiled One Love Lite, a free and anonymous smartphone app—in partnership with The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. The app, backed by decades of Hopkins research on intimate-partner violence, is targeted to 16 to 26 year olds (a high-risk group, according to Hopkins’s Jacquelyn Campbell, a national leader in research and advocacy in the field of intimate-partner violence) to help the user determine whether they are in a dangerous, abusive relationship with a series of question prompts. (“Has he ever tried to choke you?” “Does he own a gun?” the prompts ask.)

Based on the answers to these “danger-assessment” questions, the participants receive a threat-level score along with a list of resources and help hotlines to call. To date, the app, which was unveiled last September, has had more than 26,000 hits.

The thought is that if this type of technology had been around when Yeardley was alive, the family might not be mourning her. “A lot of Yeardley’s friends knew at least a little bit of what was going on and so did some of [Huguely’s] friends,” says Campbell, who built the app with IT developer James Case. “If Yeardley or one of her friends had recognized that this was an abusive relationship, they would have been able to help her.”

And though neither Sharon nor Lexie exudes any anger, they are palpably in pain when they speak of their beloved “Yards.”

“She was a truly good person who was humble about everything and never put herself first,” says Lexie, welling up. And while the anguish runs deep, they have made a conscious decision not to run from their pain, committing to not only honoring Yeardley’s memory, but also saving others from suffering the same fate.

“I just read something that said, ‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option,'” says Lexie. “I never thought I could do this, but you really don’t have any other choice other than to crumble.”

For her part, Sharon had no idea that Yeardley was in a troubled relationship.

“I don’t think she had any idea, either,” she says. “She broke up with him and he just lost it. With this app, I’m hoping kids will take the test whether they’re in a relationship or not. And then a red flag will go off, and, hopefully, they’ll make a mental note that this was one of the things to avoid before the relationship starts.”

In the initial wake of Yeardley’s death, Sharon and Lexie were unprepared for the flood of support that came from the community. Within weeks, they were approached by Yeardley’s high-school alma mater, Notre Dame Preparatory School (NDP) about the idea of building a new turf lacrosse field and dedicating it to the star lacrosse player.

“We agreed that we would help them,” explains Sharon, who was astounded when $1 million was raised in Yeardley’s memory within less than a year of her death. Next, two fully endowed four-year scholarships, one at NDP and another at UVA, were established in Yeardley’s name from various benefactors including the Virginia Lacrosse Network.

“It was one thing after another,” recalls Sharon. “We had such an outpouring of support that we decided to go further.”

Realizing they had the power and the platform to do more good deeds in Yeardley’s name, in June 2010 the duo co-founded the One Love Foundation.

“I would have pictured myself retired on a beach by now like some of my friends,” laughs Sharon, “but we couldn’t say ‘no.’ We had to take advantage of the opportunity. This foundation has grown in leaps and bounds. It’s like a snowball going downhill—it’s almost extraordinary what has happened in such a short period of time.” Sums up Seth McDonnell, co-head of management, operations, and programs at One Love Foundation: “The support has been mind-boggling.”

Through the years, One Love programs and initiatives have included providing apparel and lacrosse equipment for students in Baltimore City lacrosse programs, a “YRL Unsung Hero Award” for both a men’s and women’s NCAA Division I lacrosse player who serves as positive role models (with a donation going to their charity of choice), and charity events from a grassroots Towson lemonade stand that raised $11.63 to an “Every Yard for Yeardley” running event that raised $60,000.

Sharon’s powerful presence has helped the nonprofit grow.

“She is the most glass half-full person I’ve ever met,” says McDonnell. “She has on a Superwoman shirt underneath what she is wearing,” adds Michael Meech, the other co-head of management, operations, and programs at One Love. “We talk to a lot of people everyday who see what Sharon is doing with the foundation, and they ask us, ‘How does she do it?’ She’s so positive, and people want to be a part of it because if Sharon has the strength to do it, they think, ‘How can we not help or get involved?'”

While the work has helped Sharon and Lexie channel their grief, it has also been a mixed blessing, with the weekly phone calls, Facebook posts, and tweets funneled through the foundation keeping the wound open.

“It’s somewhat cathartic,” Sharon says, “but it’s a double-edged sword. We are thrilled to be helping stop relationship violence; on the other hand, it’s a constant reminder.”

And yet, both women have made their peace with the past and moved on. These days, Lexie, a network engineer at Agora, is enjoying a new life with her husband of seven months, Jamie Hodges, an engineer who works for his fourth-generation family business Charles H. Hodges & Son.

Sharon, who retired last year after 28 years as a teacher and interpreter for the hearing-impaired in Baltimore City, spends her time walking Bandit at Meadowood Regional Park (where a statue of Yeardley is set to go up sometime soon), jotting down notes for a possible book about Yeardley’s life, doing foundation work, and drawing strength from other parents who’ve lost a child.

“I met a woman who had lost her child in the Lockerbie [Scotland] explosion and her advice was, ‘If you’re asked, go out even if you don’t want to,'” says Sharon. “Every time I think, ‘I don’t feel like doing that,’ I remember her words.”

Support has come from others as well: On the first anniversary of Yeardley’s death, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who lost his first wife and a child in a car accident in 1972—and whom Sharon met at a domestic-violence symposium—called to offer solace.

At Sharon’s home, memories of Yeardley are nearly everywhere, from a sea of family photos on a side table to dents on the door of the garage where a young Yeardley once bounced lacrosse balls.

“When she was five, she joined the rec league,” says Sharon. “She would go out and hit the ball into the garage door every free minute that she had. She loved it.”

With time to reflect, Sharon says Yeardley’s death has forced her to look at life through a different lens.

“You never can go back to your old way of thinking,” she says. “Even your religious thoughts change, and you become more open to a broader sense of things—I have faith that she’s around us, and that makes it more comforting.”

Love, as it turns out, is both a last name and a driving force.

“It would be easier to hide in a hole and let the world go by,” says Sharon, “but that doesn’t work. You have to get up and do what’s best. I always think that’s what Yeardley would have wanted.”