Jill Smolowe
May 24, 2010 12:00 PM

Growing up in the well-to-do tree-lined community of Cockeysville, Md., Yeardley Love seemingly wanted for nothing. The home she shared with her close-knit family was a charming old gray farmhouse, set back from the road to ensure privacy. At her blue-chip private high school, Notre Dame Preparatory School, Love was a standout, so gifted on the playing field that she was the only freshman on the varsity field hockey team. “You would think she would be cocky and conceited, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” says her high school teammate Casey Donohoe. “She was humble about everything.” Generous too. Before each game, Donohoe recalls, “she would give me presents to get me pumped.” Those gifts-Gatorade, favorite snacks-were always delivered anonymously. “I didn’t know till the end of the year it was Yeardley,” says Donohoe. “She was just so thoughtful.”

Now the violent death of Love, 22, who was found on May 3 in the apartment she shared with two teammates facedown in a pool of blood, has shocked her hometown and is causing soul-searching among friends and faculty at University of Virginia, where she was a student. Just as troubling are details about the young man charged with her murder: George Huguely, a onetime boyfriend of Love’s and men’s-team lacrosse player at UVA. According to an affidavit, Huguely, 22, admitted that he kicked in Love’s door and shook her, repeatedly hitting her head against a wall. At a press conference last week, Huguely’s attorney Francis Lawrence told reporters gathered outside the District Court in Charlottesville, “We are confident that Ms. Love’s death was not intended but an accident with a tragic outcome.”

What is known is that Love and Huguely’s relationship was deeply troubled. On the UVA campus in Charlottesville, where Love was just weeks from graduating with a degree in political science, stories circulated of prior altercations involving Huguely, also a senior. The two attractive and popular athletes met during their freshman year and were often seen hanging out with teammates. Students say Huguely’s aggressive behavior was triggered by alcohol. As a picture began to emerge of an out-of-control young man with a Gossip Girl-tinged past long on wealth and privilege and short on boundaries and discipline, there was ample suggestion that the elite lacrosse culture did little to curb bad-boy excesses. Some of Love’s friends were “aware that George was not nice to Yeardley,” says the mother of a UVA student close to both Love and Huguely. “But she wasn’t the only one dating someone on the lacrosse team who has anger issues.” (A spokesperson for UVA’s athletic department refused to comment.)

Now many are asking, how could this have happened? Could school officials have done more to prevent dating violence? UVA President John Casteen said he had never heard of any problems between the two young people or about Huguely’s troubled past, adding that he will now push for a policy that requires police to inform the university about crimes committed by students. During a moving candlelight vigil, he begged students not to keep silent in the face of violent relationships. “Don’t hear a scream, don’t watch abuse, don’t hear stories of abuse from your friends and keep quiet,” Casteen said.

Until her relationship with Huguely, there was no hint of turbulence in Love’s life. A good student with a sweet disposition and an appetite for volunteer work, she loved to make others laugh and was willing even to sing-badly-to draw a smile. “Yeardley loved life and lived it to the fullest, always with a big, bright smile and positive attitude,” her grief-stricken mother, Sharon Love, told PEOPLE, “always ready and willing to take on any challenge or lend a helping hand.” With Sharon, who works with the hearing impaired in Baltimore city schools, and dad John Love, a broker with Morgan Stanley, Love grew up in a stable, loving environment. “She was a model child,” says the parent of a childhood classmate, “like a little Caroline Kennedy”-with a mischievous streak. Often Love pilfered clothes from her older sister Lexie. “Yeardley would inform her that her outfit looked horrible,” Sharon eulogized last week. “Lexie would rush to change. The next day on the computer, Lexie would find pictures of Yeardley dressed in that very same outfit.”

Down-to-earth and well-grounded, Love methodically practiced lacrosse skills in her backyard, dreaming from the time she was a little girl of attending UVA, where her uncle Granville Swope played lacrosse in the 1950s. “She could’ve gone to any college she wanted,” Swope says. “She thought about being a lawyer at one point.” In her eulogy Sharon wrote that after her husband became sick with prostate cancer, Love and Lexie “did everything possible to make sure their father was comfortable and happy.” Sharon noted that after John’s death in 2003, “rather than giving in to grief, they vowed to stick together and make their father proud.”

Love never got the chance to fulfill that promise. Though police have drawn a tight cordon around the investigation, several reports of assaults connected to Huguely’s on-again, off-again romance with Love circulated last week. Three former UVA lacrosse players told The Washington Post that in 2009 Huguely attacked a sleeping teammate after hearing that the player had kissed Love. In addition, the Post reported, two months ago three players had to pull Huguely off Love at a party. Just days before her death, a law enforcement source told PEOPLE, there was allegedly another violent incident, and both this source and friends have described Huguely as threatening Love, verbally and via text message or e-mail; cops are searching both Love’s and Huguely’s computers for evidence.

If the charges are true, that violent predator “is not the boy we knew,” says Peter Preston, who lived near the Huguelys in Chevy Chase, Md., when George was in elementary school. “The George we knew was a wonderfully charming, polite, delightful boy. The parents were terrific.” That rosy picture began to shift when Huguely was 8. In 1996 his parents separated and his dad, George IV, moved out.

Despite George IV’s plush lifestyle-which, according to documents, included a $600,000 house in Chevy Chase, a boat and two luxury automobiles-he was in 1997 $11,478 in arrears to his estranged wife, Marta. “George [IV] is one of these guys who thinks the rules don’t apply to him,” says a business peer who moves within the same circles. The younger George, he adds, “grew up watching his father thumb his nose at authority.”

At the time, his son was attending Landon, a posh prep school in Bethesda. George IV, meanwhile, did not remarry. But he continued to enjoy the wealth accrued over four generations after family patriarch George Huguely Sr. cofounded Galliher & Huguely, a company that provides building supplies for both home and commercial construction, in 1912.

Father and son also had their own run-ins with the law, including one especially troubling incident that occurred in 2008 near George IV’s $2 million Hypoluxo Island waterfront house, one of at least five waterfront properties owned by the Huguelys in and around Manalapan, Fla., a quiet, tony section of Palm Beach County. “George IV comes down once a month and is very private,” says a neighbor. “His son is rarely here.” But during a visit in 2008, father and son were boating when George IV radioed the police. According to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s report, the father said that his son had “jumped overboard and was trying to swim to shore and refusing to get back on the boat.” When police arrived, George V said he’d had a yelling-and-screaming match with his father but no physical contact. After a relative who was also onboard confirmed the story, no arrest was made.

Similarly, no action was taken by UVA after Huguely was arrested for intoxication in 2008. Last week UVA dean of students Allen Groves said that he knew nothing of any incident involving Huguely prior to Love’s death and that Love had registered no complaints with any of the offices that report to him. Craig Littlepage, UVA’s director of athletics, said that lacrosse coach Dom Starsia was also “not aware.” That did little to reassure students, many of whom had plenty to say about the lacrosse team. “They’re known for partying,” says one senior. Another, who lives next to a lacrosse house, adds, “They have parties three times a week. The day after the murder, I saw them with a 12-pack of beer, a cheap one-that’s all they ever drink.”

Still, male lacrosse players carried Love’s casket down the aisle of Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen during a May 8 memorial service that drew more than 1,500 mourners. “Yeardley was the player who everyone could talk to,” Julie Myers, her UVA lacrosse coach, told the somber crowd. “Yeardley was the player who made everyone feel better.” But while George Huguely remains in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail awaiting a June 10 court date on charges of first-degree murder, others couldn’t help but wonder: Who was looking out for Love? Students shared rumors that Huguely had sent her death threats prior to that night. “Her friends,” says Danielle Hayes, a junior, “should have said, ‘Go to the authorities. This is not okay.'”

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