TAMPA — In her mind, Nicole Oulson said she always knew there was a chance the man who shot her husband during an argument at her local movie theater could walk free.
Still, she said, nothing could have prepared her for the overnight verdict on Feb. 25 that acquitted retired Tampa Police Captain Curtis Reeves of charges in the 2014 murder of Chad Oulson at a Wesley Chapel movie theater.
“I just — in my gut, in my heart, I never thought it would come to this,” Nicole Oulson told the Tampa Bay Times in the days that followed. And on Thursday, exactly three months after one of Tampa Bay’s longest-running and most closely watched criminal cases ended, Oulson said the unexpected outcome of the trial still “felt like the blow that blew my mind.”
But with the support of attorney TJ Grimaldi and countless strangers who continue to reach out from around the world, Nicole Oulson and her 10-year-old daughter Lexy – short for Alexis – told reporters that blinding punch hasn’t taken away their desire to fight for Justice, if not for yourself, then for others affected by gun violence.
The mother and daughter called a press conference Thursday at Grimaldi’s offices in downtown Tampa to announce the creation of the Oulson Family Foundation — an organization of her own invention with a narrow focus on helping kids like Lexy who are either parents or guardians have lost to gun violence or who may themselves have been injured in gun-related crimes.
“The thing that has struck me the most over the past eight years is that Lexy felt all alone and said to me, ‘Why do I have to be so different from my friends? Why did this have to happen to me?’” said Nicole Oulson. “I had no one to turn to, no one to connect her with to share her experience so she knew she was not alone. That is at the heart of this mission – letting other children know they are not alone and that there is a community and family that is there for them and will support them.”
The Oulson Family Foundation is still in its infancy, but Nicole Oulson and Grimaldi say they’ve already seen donations. The goal is to eventually raise enough money to cover medical bills, college tuition, and mental health counseling.
“There are a lot of foundations or groups out there that focus on gun control or gun violence, but that’s not what we’re about,” Grimaldi said. “We don’t take a position on gun ownership, we’re just trying to help the children who are unnecessarily and needlessly affected by it. And surprisingly, we didn’t find any other groups with this specific mission.”
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Nicole Oulson was 35 and Lexy just 22 months old when Reeves fatally shot Chad Oulson on January 13, 2014 during a matinee screening of “Lone Survivor” at Wesley Chapel’s Grove 16 Theater, then called the Cobb Theatre.
But Nicole and Lexy Oulson said that’s not what they want people to remember about Chad Oulson. They want people to know that he was fun, friendly and loved helping others. He served in Operation Desert Storm and loved dirt bike racing. His race number – No. 28 – is now printed on the blue bracelets and t-shirts for the foundation, which his family hopes will serve as a living testament to the adventurous father’s loving nature.
“I don’t want him to be remembered for how he died, but for his legacy,” said Nicole Oulson. “He believed that we cannot allow the circumstances we are given in life to determine who we are or forbid us to be everything we can be. We can always find a way to do good and make something good out of a bad situation.”