When Saltus graduate Jason Smith was shot dead last summer a group of his closest friends were spurred into action.

Operating under the group name Live Free, the young people have been determined to keep the 22-year-old footballer’s name alive and build stronger ties in the community.

Throughout the summer they have hosted a series of events, including a seven-a-side football match and family fun day.

On August 11 they will be hosting the second annual a ‘Toast to Jay’ party at Docksiders Pub and Restaurant.

According to former school friend Francesca Cacace, 22, forming the group has helped them with the mourning process.

Mr Smith, a Regiment Lance Corporal, was shot dead in what is believed to be a case of mistaken identity near the junction of Overview Hill and North Shore Road in Pembroke in the early hours of May 1 last year.

Miss Cacace said: “For me myself I am still in shock. Sometimes I don’t even think it has happened.”

The day after he died she joined with friend Kryshae Furbert to start brainstorming about what they could do.

They decided to start a scholarship fund for a graduating student at Saltus — who contributed in sports, demonstrated good humour, a positive attitude and community spirit. “Because these were the things Jason embodied,” Miss Cacace said.

“We proposed it to the rest of our core group of friends and they all liked the idea and it was a snowball effect from there.

“We wanted to create a group to remember Jason and bring all his friends together in a positive environment, so we thought we could raise money for the scholarship award and also have different events and fundraisers.”

They came up with the name ‘Live Free’ after hearing a song by Mac Miller that was all about living free, having a carefree attitude and having fun, enjoying people’s company. Friends said that slogan described Mr Smith’s mentality perfectly.

Tse Minors, 22, said it was important for the group to turn the tragedy into something positive. She said his death was an eye opener “because we would never really think something like this would happen to Jason”. “I know it’s cliché, but you never know what tomorrow will bring,” she added.

She described Mr Smith as “a caring friend, who was always happy and humble”. “If you ask anyone he was always cracking jokes. I hope people remember his free spirit and his loving spirit.”

For 23-year-old Kryshae Furbert, the group has managed to bring the group of friends closer together and given them greater purpose for their lives.

“Even though he died in that type of way, if he didn’t we wouldn’t be here today doing all these positive things. I don’t feel like his death has been in vain.

“I think it has allowed us to carry on his name in a good way. We are sad we lost him, but we are glad we have been able to complete a lot of positive stuff in his name.

“I feel like we have helped his parents get through their days because they know we are there. Even though he is not there, they have all of us.”

Live Free members recently hosted a seven a-side football match because Mr Smith “loved football” — he was also a striker with the PHC Football Club. Sixteen teams came out, with a total of 160 players giving their time in support of the worthy cause.

The family fun day just over a week ago was equally as successful; Miss Cacace called it a “happy afternoon”.

She said: “Everyone was so passionate and they wanted to come and support the cause and they were having a great day at the same time.”

The community has also jumped on board to help the events run smoothly, including the Saltus school family. Referee Stuart Crockwell, International Sports Shop owner Brian Purvey, Saltus Athletics Director Damien Lewis and former Bermuda Football Association executive Jon Beard have also lent a big hand.

Miss Cacace said: “In all our events people know why they are coming. It’s a positive event for positive people. It’s going to be a good time and we have had great security that have been able to secure our events and we have had no problems.”

Mr Smith’s parents Michael and Jacqueline Smith have also been a source of strength and big support throughout the past year. Miss Cacace explained: “His parents are very much involved with everything we are doing.

“They came out to both our events for the past two weekends and want to be kept informed about what we are doing and when we are doing it.”

With money raised from fundraising events, Live Free has been able to hand out two scholarships — one to Saltus student Daniel Andrade for $505 and another to recent graduate Ian Simmons for $1,005.

They always add $5 at the end of each sum in memory of Mr Smith, who would sign his nickname ‘Jay’ with five y’s at the end of it. “He was also the fifth murder in the fifth month of the year,” Ms Cacace explained.

Group members have established a connection with Patrina O’Conner from the Big Brother Big Sisters charity and have been learning about different ways to help out in the community.

Their ultimate goal is to create a multi-service facility where children can spend time after school, getting help with their homework, talking through personal issues and just having fun.

Miss Cacace said: “We want it to be kind of like a clubhouse, but with different services. We will all probably have our full time jobs, but we want to use our strengths in terms of how we can give back and help others.

“Our mission is to build the community and family relationships. Jason touched so many different lives it wasn’t just our Saltus family. It was PHC and his church.

“He had friends in all different groups, he was just such a people person, so happy. The people that came to our events too they are crying along with us. He just touched so many different people.”

Miss Minors added: “We want to help someone that doesn’t have the access to the services we can provide and also promote healthy relationships in the community.”

The other Live Free founders are Lozendro Symonds, James Adams, Jez Burrows, Ezekiel Stoneham, Jamin Furbert, Daniel Woods, Kijaun Wilkinson, Milan Wall-Burgess, Jasmin Caines, Akil Trott, Clyde Darrell, Matthew Madeiros, Teron Ratteray and Marquel Waldron. The core group currently includes nine people, Ms Cacace said.

The next event will be taking place at Docksiders on August 11. The group hope it will bring young people together in a positive social environment, while also raising money for the next scholarship recipient.

Tickets to the event will cost $25; they will be available at Mambo on Reid Street or via members of the Live Free team. People can also get in touch with members via the Live Free Facebook group or by e-mailing livefreejay@gmail.com.

 – Article by The Royal Gazette