On the morning of March 20, a lively and determined community took back its park that was tragically taken from it more than three weeks prior.
Marred by the murder of Poway teen Chelsea King on Feb. 25, the Rancho Bernardo Community Park sprung to life again during the Finish Chelsea’s Run event. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people joined together to remember and celebrate Chelsea by walking the trail that she never came home from. A colorful, seemingly endless ribbon of supporters clung to the route surrounding the shores of Lake Hodges, exuding a spirit that mirrored the event’s themes of hope and tribute.”We would’ve been happy if 100 people showed up,” Todd Velazquez, one of the four organizers of the event and a San Diego State alumnus, said. “We want this to be a onetime event that we never have to do again.” Velazquez had also attended Poway High School, the same as Chelsea, and had also run on the school’s track team, guided by the same coach.Velazquez’s fellow organizers included Dave Jewell, Andy Voggenthelar and Tommy Sablan, producer of the radio show, the Jeff and Jer Showgram, who spoke to the crowd at the event’s start at 9 a.m.Along the trail, large pictures of Chelsea were hung, blue ribbons were tied to fences and volunteers handed out wildflower seeds for supporters of all generations to spread as they walked.”Chelsea gave me a wonderful gift of strength yesterday to be able to greet those who finished Chelsea’s run,” Chelsea’s mom, Kelly King said on the Chelsea’s Light Facebook page. “Your hugs and words meant so much and I can’t begin to express the depth of my gratitude to each and every one of you. Please continue to stand together and fight for what is right and good. Let Chelsea’s love … of life and determination to change the world continue to resonate in all of us.”Brent King, Chelsea’s father, said he was unable to attend the walk because of prior commitments to his son, Tyler.Everyone in attendance had their own special connection to Chelsea. Some were friends, some were classmates and some were family. Some never got the chance to meet Chelsea, but were getting to know her through memorial after memorial, news story after news story.Poway High School freshman Park Maskerson, who attended the run with her friend and classmate Jessalyn Baljon, ran with Chelsea on the school’s cross country team. Maskerson said the event was valuable because it was able to “bring everyone together some more.” Baljon commented that the large turnout could have even been expected.”We’ve all stuck together through the whole thing,” she said. “So we’re not really surprised that they all came out today.”As a result of their loss, the King family has done something to benefit others in a time of loss and sorrow.The Chelsea’s Light Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, according to its Facebook page, was created by Kelly and Brent with the intent of raising awareness about the kinds of events that took their daughter from them. Originally a Web page to aid in the search for Chelsea, it has now been transformed into the organization’s Web site. The King family has acknowledged that the task ahead of them is an uneasy, unfamiliar one, but their determination is exemplified in Chelsea’s Light.”The whole goal of the Chelsea’s Light Foundation is to ensure that no child is harmed by sexual predators,” Brent said. “That’s our aim.”Along with a small army of helpful volunteers, the Kings have been working with State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher to create and pass a bill named after Chelsea. Chelsea’s Law is to strengthen the laws and processes in what they call is a broken system, the Kings explained.”Our Chelsea’s Law partner, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, reports progress in Sacramento yesterday on parole reform,” Chelsea’s Light Facebook page’s status said on March 26. “Unanimous support was expressed by the California Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review for Assemblyman Fletcher’s proposal to improve record keeping for violent criminals.”The King family is not the only group still planning and reacting to Chelsea’s death. Emily Thomas, a second year at nearby San Diego Mesa College, heard of Chelsea’s disappearance through her brother Evan, who is a senior at Poway High School and was friends with Chelsea. In reaction to the news, Thomas joined the search and rescue efforts at Lake Hodges, where Chelsea’s body was later found on March 2.”For the five days that they couldn’t find her, it was hard for me to sleep knowing that something like that happened to a girl who went to my high school and that it happened so close to home, in a community that has always felt so safe to me,” Thomas said. “Everyone in Poway was looking for her, there were blue ribbons tied around every tree and every sign, and not once did I walk into a building without seeing a flyer about her disappearance. The Poway community is like one big family, all of our efforts were put into her safe return.”As a result, Thomas is leading efforts to create a Web site designated for women runners and information on self-defense classes in the San Diego area. Named Protecting Women Runners Against Violence Everywhere, or PoWeR AVE., the group’s goal is to give women runners “a feeling of connection between each other.””Women runners should know how to protect themselves, where safe places are to go running and should be able to contact other runners living in their area to go running with them,” she said on the group’s Facebook page.Additionally, Thomas is planning a run in memory of Chelsea on June 12 at Lake Poway called the PoWeR Run. She said they are currently trying to set up a Web site for the PoWeR AVE. group and run and to find a place for donations to be made toward Chelsea’s Light and establishing PoWeR AVE.”We are hoping to have police officials stop by the event to teach free self-defense to everyone attending and for everyone to come out and enjoy a nice run around (Lake Poway),” Thomas, who also attended and completed Finish Chelsea’s Run, said.Of the events that people are planning in Chelsea’s name, Kelly and Brent have a difficult time expressing their gratitude.”One of the greatest things we have going right now is when Chelsea’s friends come over and we can sit around and talk,” Brent said. “And Kelly and I, my wife and I, we just love the energy that kids have whether they’re high schoolers or teenagers or college kids. And we’ve got to protect them. It’s just that easy, we have to protect them from the terrible parts of society.”For more information on how to get involved with the Chelsea’s Light Foundation, visit www.facebook.com/chelseaslight.