SPECIAL REPORT: Parents of Northampton man murdered in Florida reveal pride at new project in memory of friends who lost lives

James Kouzaris, 24, from Northampton. He and James Cooper, 25, from Warwickshire were shot dead in Florida in what is thought to have been a street robbery that went wrong whilst on holiday with family and friends in the Gulf coast town of Sarasota, Florida, USA on April 16, 2011.
James Kouzaris, 24, from Northampton. He and James Cooper, 25, from Warwickshire were shot dead in Florida in what is thought to have been a street robbery that went wrong whilst on holiday with family and friends in the Gulf coast town of Sarasota, Florida, USA on April 16, 2011.

The parents of a 24-year-old Northampton man who was murdered in Florida four years ago, have announced funding for two major projects they hope will help provide a fitting legacy for their son.

James Kouzaris and his friend, James Cooper, aged 25, were both shot dead by 16-year-old Shawn Tyson in Sarasota, USA, in the early hours of April 16, 2011.

Following the deaths of the two popular young men, friends and family set up a charity called Always A Chance, which aims to provide funding for projects that encourage young people who are outside full-time education and employment to re-engage with the education system or find employment.

Hazel and Pete Kouzaris, James’s parents, announced today that the charity will be providing funding for a new HITZ officer, based at Northampton Saints, who will support and educate disadvantaged and disillusioned young people into further opportunities in mainstream education and training.

The charity is also collaborating with the Safe Academy Trust, set up by a former detective chief inspector from the Met Police, to provide a series of talks in schools covering topics such as safe travel, drug awareness, teenage pregnancy and gang crime.

Mrs Kouzaris, James’s mum, said the family was determined to make sure that something positive came out of her son’s death as he would not have wanted them to be “moping about”.

Our grief is not as raw but it feels like a wound that never healed.

Hazel Kouzaris

Mr Kouzaris said: “We do not want to put kids off travel; James would not have wanted that.

“He was very carefree, but he was a very seasoned traveller and he was sensible. He was not travelling when it happened, he was on a family holiday.

“We don’t want people to be put off travelling. Little things like making sure you have life insurance. James always did it at the last minute, but that saved us a lot of problems.”

The first of the Safe Academy Trust talks is being held at The Duston School in Northampton, where Mr Kouzaris works.

Mr Kouzaris said he wanted people in Northampton to be aware of the major projects some of the money raised for Always a Chance – which totals more than £250,000 – was now being spent on.

He said: “What we are doing now is helping to fulfil what we set out to do with the charity. We are spending a lot of money investing in these projects and we are happy to do that and are excited by it.”

Mr Kouzaris, a popular and successful amateur rugby player, spent several months travelling in South America, visiting Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia.

His parents said they had now been inspired to visit some of the places their son had seen, including South America and Asia.

Mr Kouzaris said: “It is a little bit of a pilgrimage because we try to see what he saw in places. We want to see why he saw the awe and wonder of a place.

“James had a famous saying that ‘travelling gives you the best form of education’,” he added.

Mr Kouzaris, who was a former Northampton School for Boys pupil, met Mr Cooper at Sheffield University.

Mr Kouzaris worked for Northamptonshire County Council as part of a team setting up a programme to provide healthy food for schools.

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PARENTS ‘HUMBLED’ TO BE INVOLVED IN SAMM SUPPORT GROUP

Hazel and Pete Kouzaris said they had been “humbled” by being part of Support After Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM) Abroad, which is due to hold a conference in Northampton later this month.

SAMM provides support for families of the victims of murder or mansalughter abroad and the organisation has received money from the Always a Chance charity.

Mr Kouzaris said: “One thing that made us humble about this whole thing is being part of SAMM Abroad. We thought we had it bad, but some people have it much worse.

“Some people face corruption and vast expense due to having to travel to and from a country,” he added.

The two-day conference will be held at the University of Northampton’s Sunley Conference Centre from April 26.

Mr and Mrs Kouzaris said they were working with SAMM to campaign for better support for families of people murdered abroad.

Mr Kouzaris said: “On average 65 Britains are murdered

abroad every year; that figure can only increase with the amount of people that are travelling.”

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FOUR YEARS ON, PARENTS REVEAL TRAGIC DEATH OF THEIR SON WAS A ‘WOUND THAT NEVER HEALED’

James Kouzaris’s mother said the death of her son was like a “wound that never healed”.

Four years after his death, Hazel Kouzaris said the grief was not as raw now, but the family still found it hard not to get upset about the fact his life was cut short at such a young age.

Mrs Kouzaris said: “Our daughter, Emily, is at the same age as James and she says that is really weird. When she has her birthday in June, she will be 25 and that will be older than James.

“I don’t like going on Facebook, it upsets me because there are no new pictures of James for me.

“Our grief is not as raw but it feels like a wound that never healed,” she said.

Mr Kouzaris said it was perhaps quite poignant they were launching a major Always a Chance project on the four-year anniversary of their son’s death.

He said: “People ask us if it is hard on the anniversary of his death, but it is no worse than any other day since he was killed.

“If we thought about it too much you could really upset yourself. It’s the old adage, four years ago he was making our memories but now you are not going to see any new ones.

“Today we might go to

the memorial bench at Pitsford reservoir. He liked Pitsford and that’s why we put the bench there. We may also raise a glass to him,” he added.

Mr Kouzaris said the couple had been informed that their son’s killer may be able to appeal his sentence as the result of another case that was currently going through the American court system.

The case involves a juvenile who, like Shawn Tyson, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

If the Supreme Court rules that mandatory life terms without parole for juveniles are unlawful, Tyson will be able to ask for a re-sentence.

In the event that happened, Mr and Mrs Kouzaris said they now felt strong enough to go over to America to face their son’s killer.

Mr Kouzaris said: “We have been asked if we would go across. The first time we weren’t strong enough, hopefully the second time we will be.

“The thing that was comforting to us was that when he was first sentenced, we knew that we did not have to think about him again. The thought that he might come out and I could still be alive is not comforting.”

Mrs Kouzaris said: “The one thing you could say about America is that, as a victim, the justice system served you well. We are hoping the sentence stands and the judge keeps it as it was. I think our prosecutor is still hopeful that he will.”