Rhonda Fields says nothing could ever fill the void left when her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, a material witness in a murder case, was gunned down in Aurora in 2005.
But she says Marshall-Fields lives on through a scholarship at CSU, which she struggled to keep afloat until a surprise $300,000 donation this last academic year. Five years since he and Vivian Wolfe, his fiance' and fellow CSU alum, were killed, the Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe Memorial Scholarship is now fully endowed.
"My son loved CSU," Fields says. "He was educated there. I sent him there a young boy, and CSU sent him back an educated man to me."
The CSU graduates were killed in a hail of gunfire in June 2005 after Marshall-Fields had agreed to testify against Robert Ray, the man he witnessed kill his friend.
"It is comforting knowing that the people who did this are in jail and can't hurt anybody else," Fields said last week outside the courtroom where one of the accomplices to the double homicide, Parish Carter, is awaiting sentencing for his involvement in the murders
Robert Ray, 24, is scheduled to die by lethal injection for ordering the killing of the key witness against him in connection with a 2004 murder -- but the lengthy appeals process for death sentences ensures Ray will still be breathing for years to come. And Sir Mario Owens, the trigger man who sprayed twelve shots at the couple's car in Aurora days before the trial, is on death row.
The deaths highlighted the risk murder witnesses face and brought criticism to how Colorado protects -- or doesn't protect -- them. Her son was trying to do the right thing, even though he knew he might be killed for it, Fields says, and the scholarships seeks to reward students with similar backgrounds and principles.
"It's comforting seeing these scholars who are so much like Javad and Vivian," Fields says.
The scholarship provides for students from Aurora or Colorado Springs, Wolfe's home town, with strong community service backgrounds who pledge community involvement at CSU.
The first two scholars graduated from CSU this year -- a testament to the scholarship's mission. But funding a scholarship isn't easy. For most of that time, Fields worked to organize events like an annual golf tournament to raise money, bringing in just enough to keep one scholar per year in school, after expenses.
In October 2009, she attended CSU's 1870 Dinner, an event honoring and garnering donors to the school, she felt small-time when she presented her $10,000 to the school.
"I was proud, but yet it didn't seem like that big of a deal compared to what other people were doing," she admits. "I told the people there that my goal was to raise $300,000, so that I would be able to keep the scholarship going without being worried about it."
And by the end of the night, an anonymous donor stepped forward with exactly that amount, endowing the scholarship and entering her son's "legacy into the university forever."
"Right there at the dinner afterward, all of a sudden, she came up and said she got the $300,000," remembers Paul Thayer, vice president for student affairs and one of the CSU administrators who doles out the scholarship; he also knew Marshall-Fields personally. "I swear I thought she was excited -- I mean $300,000 is a lot. I thought she misspoke."
"It was an incredibly emotion time," he adds. "It was tears of joy and incredulity and all those things, and suddenly we have enough through the endowment to support a student every year and continue through graduation."
Thayer says the university might even be able to be more generous with the funds, possibly handing out more than one scholarship annually. But for now, "We're still basking in the thrill of this whole thing."
As Fields is still waiting for justice, she says the success of the scholarship gives her, and her son's life, meaning.
"It was something that just took my breath away. It gave me hope in humanity," she says. "Goodness always prevails over evil."