Toy drive honors Sevierville woman's memory

The family of a Sevierville woman shot and killed four years ago is working to keep her memory alive this holiday season.

2013 marks the second year of the "Leah Victoria Avril" toy drive, in honor of the 18-year old killed by a young man authorities say was her boyfriend.

"There's always going to be a hole in my heart -- always for her," said Avril's sister, Amy Thomason. "But I know Leah, she would want us to live the best that we can without her. And I just don't want anyone to ever forget her sweet face."

Thomason's 10-year old daughter, Haley, came up with an idea.

"It was about Christmas [season], and I was thinking about kids who don't have much," remembers Haley, who shares a birthday with her late aunt.

She decided to hold a toy drive in Leah's honor.

Last year, they collected more than 300 toys, and this year they're hoping to top 400. The donations go to "SafeSpace," an East Tennessee domestic violence shelter and service organization. SafeSpace serves Sevier, Jefferson, and Cocke Counties.

"I just thought it was the coolest idea for this little girl to come up with something that has really taken off and absolutely impacted us so wonderfully at Christmastime," said Van Wolfe, Executive Director of SafeSpace.

"We had all these things for the kids at shelter to pick from, and their moms wrapped them so they had presents under the tree," she added. "And it was wonderful."

Wolfe says the toys lasted through the holidays and into the next year for birthdays and other celebrations at the shelter.

"She loved children," Thomason said. "She always wanted to be a mom someday."

Each year, the toy drive starts on November 17th, the anniversary of Leah's death.

"It's been a very, very hard day for us in the past and it will always be a hard day," her sister day. "But if we do something that day that keeps our mind busy, and we know that we're helping others, and that is what Leah would have wanted."

The drive lasts through Tuesday, December 17th. If you'd like to donate, you can visit a drop-box at one of the locations listed below. Thomason said people can also visit a website, built in honor of her sister



  • Subway
  • Saigon Nails
  • Reams Drugstore
  • Y-12 Credit Union
  • Merle Norman
  • Firehouse Subs
  • Family Dollar Store
  • New Life Church of God
  • CheckNGo
  • Zaxby's (Sevierville and Seymour)


  • Rocky Top Chrysler Jeep & Dodge
  • The Front Porch (Cosby)
  • Hilltop Baptist Church (Newport)
  • New Outlook Salon (Knoxville)


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