Chase Kowalski's room still looks the same as the last time the 7-year-old jumped out of his bed. That is the bed with a blanket featuring Lightning McQueen, his favorite character from "Cars," and enough stuffed animals to fill a Jacuzzi. It is a typical 7-year-old boy's room, packed with toys, a drawing of Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 race car and an inflatable Yankees bat. His Cub Scout uniform is hanging on a closet door.
Besides Chase's bed, there is a white and black calendar. As soon as Chase's little feet hit the floor, he took a pen and wrote an X through that day. He was an energetic boy, active from the moment he started the day with an X until the moment his head touched the pillow again. Chase's last X came on Dec. 14. He never made it home again.
On that horrible day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Chase was one of 26 people that were killed by a gunman. It was an unspeakable tragedy, a day where so many families screamed and cried and screamed some more. How did this happen? There were so many young people still waiting to embrace the rest of their lives. So many young people, just like Chase, who were gone. It is so sad, so senseless and so shameful.
Three months after Chase's death, I stood in his room with Stephen and Rebecca, his parents. They are an inspirational couple, a mother and father who mourn their son every minute of every day.
But as much as they mourn Chase, and as much as they miss Chase, they are also dedicated to making sure that Chase's life is remembered. They want people to know Chase and realize why his life, though short, was so accomplished. Through Chase, they want to help strengthen other families.
"We want the world to be better because of this tragedy, not to be known for this tragedy," Rebecca said. "I don't want my son's name … I don't want him to be known as a victim. 'Cause, in my eyes, he's better than that."
Chase was an Energizer Bunny, a boy who kept going and going and going. Because Chase did everything from winning a triathlon (after he taught himself to swim), to riding motorcycles (where he jumped over mountains of dirt in his backyard) to playing baseball (where he played for the Newtown Yankees and was the only player on the team who could make the throw from third to first base), the Kowalskis want to raise enough money to build a community center called Chase's Place. The Kowalskis want Chase's Place to feature all of the activities their son loved and they want entire families, not just the kids, to spend time there together.
"Our mission is to get families to come together and be a part of each other's lives," Rebecca said. "We can't let our kids get close because this craziness is what happens when it's lost. And if we can positively change the way families interact and spend time together through a community center, I think that can make a big difference. And if it makes a difference in one kid's life, I think it's worth it."
How did Rebecca and Stephen develop the idea for Chase's Place? Actually, they didn't. The idea came from Chase. Two days after the Newtown disaster, Rebecca said Chase came to her in a vision and described what his family members should do now that he was no longer with them.
"It was him and it was God and it was, 'This is what you need to do, Mom,'" Rebecca explained. "You need to help Daddy get through the first steps. And then he showed me a pyramid and he showed me all these different spaces that would be filled in with our friends and friends of friends and more friends and just people that wanted to help make the world a better place and to make Chase's place a reality. And that was that. He gave it to me. And he gave me the blueprint and I consider him my CEO."
The vision from Chase was so powerful and precise that Rebecca said she went from the worst day of her life to feelings of peace. Chase's vision gave Rebecca solace, but it also gave the family some direction on how they could move forward after Chase's death. They would honor him by funneling their efforts into creating Chase's Place.
After the vision from Chase, Rebecca rushed out of bed, sat at her computer and began to feverishly write everything her son had told her. Rebecca said Chase implored her "to share it with people." As Rebecca tapped at the computer keys, she said she looked out the window and saw "a little face." She blew kisses to the face, Chase's face.
"At some point, I think I must've thought, 'This is nuts.' How could I have this kind of insightful vision?" she recalled. "And it really is. It's him filling me with peace and not having a broken heart."
Once Rebecca finished compiling her notes from Chase's vision, she showed them to Stephen. Stephen read them and didn't initially say too much. Rebecca wanted to be sure that Stephen wanted to pursue the idea of creating a community center so she turned to Chase. She told Chase that she needed "to know that Daddy thinks this is going to be amazing."
Rebecca said, "I never use the word 'amazing.'"
Across the next several hours, some friends visited and a few even told Rebecca and Stephen that they were amazing for how they were coping with Chase's death. Rebecca looked to the heavens and told Chase, "It's the right word, but it's the wrong people, honey." Rebecca needed Stephen, not a family friend, to acknowledge that the plan for Chase's Place was amazing.
Another day passed. More condolence calls and letters and more and visitors arrived at their home. One of the visitors was Yvonne Grimes, a neighbor whose son attends Chase Collegiate School in Waterbury, Conn. She gave Stephen a pile of items from the school, hoping the family would be comforted by seeing "Chase" on everything. Chase called the private school "his school" because he shared a name with it.
When the usually stoic Stephen finally had the chance to show the gifts to Rebecca, he said, "Honey, you've got to see this stuff." Stephen showed her some T-Shirts, but then he said, "And this is the greatest thing. This is the absolute best thing." In Steven's hands, he held a green backpack from a school scavenger hunt. Etched across the backpack were the words, "Amazing Chase."
For information about how you can help honor Chase Kowalski's memory, go to www.chasekowalskifund.com.
Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES