Thousands of San Diego residents united Saturday morning for a run to remember a Poway teenager whose vibrant life was tragically cut short, and to spread love and light to the community.
Runners started the 5K at 6th Avenue and Palm Street and finished at Balboa Drive, south of Quince Street. A family festival followed, where participants enjoyed activities like writing on an “inspiration wall” and decorating sunflower pots.
The annual event serves as a fundraiser for the Chelsea’s Light Foundation, a non-profit organization created by Chelsea's parents, Brent and Kelly King, in memory of their beloved daughter. The foundation aims to support youth and spread positive change in the community.
Saturday's 5K raised money for the organization’s Sunflower Scholarship Fund, which helps award 10 scholarships to college-bound teens who embody the “service over self” traits that Chelsea lived by.
NBC 7 was the television media partner for the event; our NBC 7 team participated in the run and was there in support of participants and Chelsea’s loved ones.
In a high-profile case that sent shock waves through San Diego County, Chelsea, only 17, was kidnapped on Feb. 25, 2010, while out on a run at Rancho Bernardo Community Park, by sexual predator John Albert Gardner III.The Poway High School senior’s body was found five days later in the Lake Hodges area.
On May 15, 2010, Gardner was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the rape and murder of Chelsea, as well as that of Escondido teenager Amber Dubois, 14, who vanished in a similar, disturbing case in February 2009.
The following year, the King family worked to pass Chelsea’s Law in California, which enhances criminal sentences for violent sexual offenders who commit crimes against children.
On Friday, Brent and Kelly King stopped by NBC 7 to talk about Finish Chelsea's Run and their ongoing efforts to take Chelsea's Law to other states.
Brent said he recently visited South Dakota where he met with a group of legislators to talk about the law and how it has worked in the state of California. He does this type of work often.
“Not only do we share how California adopted it, we also share how it’s been used. And then we break it down into the metrics of what it’s going to cost their state and how much it’s going to protect their kids,” Brent said. “It’s a very beautiful story to share of how to do it right, but you always get a little bit of pushback now and then and it’s my job to have them overcome that.”
The Kings said Finish Chelsea’s Run has grown about three times in size since the event began eight years ago. Each time, they are overwhelmed by the love and support San Diegans display at the event.
“It’s a sea of smiles and happy faces and a joyful culmination of what San Diego is all about – and that’s a community that cares,” said Kelly.
Brent said it’s incredible to see how engaged the community is with their efforts year after year. It gives the Kings hope for the present and future.
“It’s amazing what we can do when we all choose to do it,” Brent added.
The Kings watch the start of the race from a tower where they have a birds-eye view of the thousands of people running in memory of their daughter. Brent said it feels as if the participants “just care.”
“They care about making this place just a little bit better,” he said.
Kelly said that while the run is a happy event, it’s also a very emotional time for her family.
“You know, it is bittersweet, there’s no doubt about that,” Kelly told NBC 7. “But I see my daughter’s smile in every kid that’s out there. Our daughter was this beautiful ray of sunshine and I see that in every child’s face.”
“She’s with us, and I see her spirit and all the joy and the laughter and the smiles in the kids that come out, and the parents, too,” she added.
Thanks to the people who participate in Finish Chelsea’s Run, the Kings said they’ve been able to provide $500,000 in college scholarships via the Chelsea’s Light Foundation. Brent said 75 kids are attending college thanks to the run.
One of those college students is Susan Hopped-Tatum's daughter, Lauren, who is currently a sophomore at the University of Alabama.
Hopped-Tatum said Lauren served as a student ambassador for four years in support of Finish Chelsea's Run, encouraging youth to take part in the event.
Lauren was one of the scholarship recipients awarded by the Chelsea's Light Foundation and, today, she's attending college.
“Now, she’s at the university doing her thing, and doing great,” her mom told NBC 7.
Hopped-Tatum said her family continues to support Finish Chelsea's Run and the positivity it spreads in San Diego.
At Saturday's race, the Kings moved from the starting line tower to the finish line, giving hugs and high fives to participants who came through.
With big smiles on their faces, they cheered for the community that, in turn, has always cheered for them.