In memory of Avril: Pair collects toys

Dec. 09, 2013 @ 10:19 AM

 Leah Avril’s niece and sister have turned the anniversary of her death into a time to help some children in need.

Avril died Nov. 17, 2009, when Jacob Stanton shot her while they were alone in an apartment in Murrel Meadows. He maintained his gun accidentally discharged; prosecutors and Avril’s family said he intentionally shot her. A Sevier County jury convicted him of second-degree murder in 2011.

Amy Thomason, Avril’s sister, was close to her, as was Avril’s niece, Haley, who is now 10.

Last year, without facing the thought of a trial for the first time, they wanted to do something to honor her.

It was Haley who came up with the idea of collecting toys to give to SafeSpace, the local domestic violence shelter. They leave boxes at local some local banks, stores and other locations, starting on the anniversary of her death and continuing for a month, through Dec. 17.

There are drop-off locations at a number of local areas; a full list can be found at, or at the family’s memorial site for Avril,

Last year, they collected 300 toys in the first year of their efforts. SafeSpace gives the toys to the children of parents who are fleeing domestic violence — they make birthday or Christmas presents as well as everyday toys for children who often had to abandon their things when an a parent found the courage to flee an abusive relationship at home.

“It’s so good to have them when we need them,” said Van Wolfe, director of SafeSpace.

The toys they got last year were enough to last into the fall, Wolfe said.

This year, Haley and Amy hope to collect at least 400 toys. They hope that will be enough to last through a full year.

So far, they’ve gotten a good response.

“It’s going good,” Haley said.

Amy said it continues to open her eyes to how much domestic violence is going on unnoticed. One of the people who contacted her and wanted to help was a friend from high school. She explained that she’d been to SafeSpace when she was a child, and she was eager to give back.

“I never knew she went through that,” she said.

Wolfe said the toys can be for any ages and either gender. They never know what children will come through their door, and sadly they usually have several families show up during the holidays.

Amy and Haley said they have no plan for stopping.

“We’re going to keep doing this as long as we’re here,” Amy said.