Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

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Scholarship fund will help children of those killed in Oct. 1 shooting

 After losing their daughter in the Oct. 1 Strip shooting, Debbie and Chris Davis found themselves thrust into a virtual role they hadn’t played in many years — parents.

Their daughter, Neysa Tonks, a single mother from Las Vegas, left behind three children: a 24-year-old son, Kaden Manczuk; and two school-aged siblings, Braxton Tonks, 17, and Greysen Tonks, 15.

Still grieving their daughter’s death, the couple, in their mid-60s, knew what they had to do. They moved into Tonks’ house to provide her children with the stability and support they needed. “It really takes a village to raise a child,” Debbie Davis said.

One of the first hurdles they faced was helping Braxton Tonks, then a senior at Palo Verde High School, apply for college.

He was accepted at three schools, but the Davises were left wondering how many children of the 57 other people killed would someday be in the same position.

They soon discovered there were dozens and decided to do something to help.

Last month, they and their daughter Mynda Smith launched a scholarship fund through the Nevada Community Foundation.

The Children of the 58 — Lost and Never Forgotten Fund will help pay for post-high school education for 55 children who lost a parent when a gunman opened fire from a Strip hotel tower into a crowd of people at a country music festival across the street. More than 800 people were also injured.

The fund, which accepts direct donations and operates a GoFundMe account, plans to distribute all proceeds equally among the children who were under 21 at the time of the shooting. They must apply for the grants, which will cover expenses at a two- or four-year university, vocational or trade school.

Some children were as young as 2 months old when they lost their parents, so money will remain in the fund for years to come.

“We’re not looking to give the kids money; we’re looking to help pay part of tuition for the schools of their choice,” Davis said. “Our goal is for kids to go to college. We want to help inspire and support them.”

The fund, which will collect donations through Oct. 1, 2019, was created as “a labor of love,” said Smith, Tonks’ sister.

With three children of her own — two attending the University of Utah — Smith said she could relate to the struggle of putting a child through school.

“We wanted to help those most in need of the financial assistance,” Smith said. “Losing a parent means one less person in a family who’s a provider and breadwinner.”

Braxton Tonks, now a freshman at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, said his grandparents and high school counselor were key in helping him stay on track for college after his mother’s death. The chance to receive scholarship money from the fund next year would mean “everything” in helping pay his tuition, he said.

“It’s what my mom would want — for all of us to succeed,” he said. “I’m thankful my family is putting in a ton of work into making this possible.”

Donations to the fund can be made by contacting the Nevada Community Foundation at 702-892-2326 or online via GoFundMe.