Sharon Love hopes to end relationship violence in memory of her daughter, 22, who was killed by an ex-boyfriend

By Jeff Truesdell
Updated May 07, 2015 02:40 PM
Credit: Aram Boghosian/The Boston Globe/Getty

Five years after University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love was beaten to death by an ex-boyfriend, athletes too young to have played alongside her sat in the team’s locker room pondering her mother’s message about steps that might have prevented Yeardley’s murder – and how to protect themselves and their friends.

The occasion last month was a workshop led by the OneLove Foundation, launched by Sharon Love to halt relationship violence like that which killed Yeardley at age 22 on May 3, 2010. And though Love was not there herself to talk to those UVA students, she knows she’s making a difference.

“It’s been a godsend to us,” Love, 65, tells PEOPLE. “It’s given our lives purpose, and it’s given us something to wake up and do every single day, and it keeps Yeardley’s memory alive. I can’t imagine not having this to do.”

With a 40-minute film followed by small group discussion, the foundation has launched a nationwide campaign to educate 16-to-24-year-olds about the signs of abuse, with visits made or planned to more than 150 colleges and 70 high schools this year. The film itself tells a fictional tale of a relationship that blooms and turns dark, with Yeardley’s fate as an undercurrent, invoking friends who saw but missed the warning signals.

“It gives you the opportunity to notice the red flags, but it also gives you the opportunity to understand what you could have done differently,” says Caroline Seats, 22, a UVA student and midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team who attended the locker room workshop.

Indeed, after Yeardley’s death, “One of her friends said, ‘We all had different pieces of the puzzle, but none of us could see the entire puzzle,’ ” says Yeardley’s cousin Sharon Robinson, 40, a member of the foundation board. “These kids all saw something, but they didn’t know what they were seeing.”

And that, Love says, is why the foundation was started.

“I’ve never been in a high school or college where someone hasn’t come up to me and said they were a victim of abuse,” she says. Forcing the conversation “gives people strength, because it gives them strength in unity. The topic is really not discussed, and so it opens it up out of the box and brings it into the light of day.”

It’s an education Yeardley’s family went through as well.

“Initially I didn’t really think that Yeardley was a victim of relationship violence,” says Love, who had based her assumptions on the image of someone trapped and dependent upon the abuser. “We were so naive to this, and Yeardley was so naive, that I don’t think the possibility of anything like this ever happening crossed anybody’s mind. It still seems somewhat impossible to me.”

When George Huguely V, now 27, a men’s lacrosse standout, was arrested and later sentenced to 23 years for second-degree murder during an argument at Yeardley’s off-campus apartment, her friends acknowledged evidence of an abusive relationship. But they didn’t connect the dots.

“We came from that exact same spot,” says Love. “I didn’t see it, but it existed and we knew nothing about it.”

Says Sharon Robinson: “From the outside looking in, she looked perfect. Smart, fun, lots of friends – she seemingly had it all. That’s part of the reason why her story resonates. You think, how can this happen to someone like that?”

“Why didn’t she seek help?” Robinson asks. “Partially because people are not comfortable talking about things like this, and we want to change that.”

Yeardley mother says, “I feel she’s a part of all of this.”

Yeardley’s father, John, died in 2003; Yeardley’s sister, Lexie, was married after Yeardley died. But Sharon Love and Lexie Love Hodges share in their newfound advocacy on Yeardley’s behalf.

“I wake up and go to bed thinking about her,” says Sharon Love. “There isn’t probably an hour that goes by that I don’t feel like she’s still with me. She’s just not physically here.”

“The movie really isn’t Yeardley’s story,” she says, “it’s kind of everyone’s story. And all of the red flags are embedded in that movie. Maybe if it had been available to us before my girls went off to school, and they knew of these red flags, and how dangerous these situations are when these red flags are present – I don’t know, I’m hoping it will do for others what it might have done for us.”