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Victims open ‘Topes’ season

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Tommy Lasorda, center, former Dodgers and Albuquerque Dukes manager, chats with Roswell school shooting victims Nathaniel Tavarez, right, and Kendal Sanders, they prepare to throw out the opening pitches Friday night. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Tommy Lasorda, center, former Dodgers and Albuquerque Dukes manager, chats with Roswell school shooting victims Nathaniel Tavarez, right, and Kendal Sanders, they prepare to throw out the opening pitches Friday night. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Nathaniel Tavarez and Kendal Sanders stood just in front of the pitcher’s mound at Isotopes Park on Friday evening and threw out the first pitches to officially open the new baseball season at home.

Nathaniel’s pitch was a tad short of the batter’s box, but then his eyesight isn’t what it used to be; Kendal’s pitch was even shorter because she had to use her left arm while her dominant right arm continues to heal.

Roswell school shooting victims Kendal Sanders and Nathaniel Tavarez are escorted off the field by Dodgers representative Tommy Lasorda and Albuquerque Isotopes mascot Orbit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Roswell school shooting victims Kendal Sanders and Nathaniel Tavarez are escorted off the field by Dodgers representative Tommy Lasorda and Albuquerque Isotopes mascot Orbit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Nathaniel, 12, and Kendal, 13, were seriously injured in January when fellow student Mason Campbell, 12, walked into the student-filled gymnasium at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, removed a 20-gauge shotgun with a sawed-off stock from a duffel bag and randomly opened fire.

Nathaniel spent weeks in hospitals and rehab centers for treatment of wounds to his chest, heart, face and head. His vision in both eyes has been severely diminished. Kendal was released from a hospital after surgeries to repair damage to her right arm and shoulder.

Despite their recent physical traumas, both kids said they were “really excited” to have been invited to attend the game by Isotopes general manager John Traub.

Indeed, they appeared to be more excited than most opening day fans. More excited than Los Angeles Dodgers representative and Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who allowed them to fawn over one of his World Series rings. Even more excited than Mayor Richard Berry, who accepted a check for $1.57 million as part of the Isotopes lease agreement with the city.

Both children were being home-schooled through the end of this school year but were hopeful of returning to regular classes in August. “I wish I could go back now,” said an anxious Nathaniel. “I’m ready. I’m looking forward to going back,” added Kendal.

Neither child was in denial about what happened that horrible morning in January and how it changed their lives, nor were they holding on to anger toward Mason Campbell.

“I’m disappointed, not angry,” Nathaniel said. “I was friends with him. We always read together in language arts class. I’m not sure why this happened. I know things like this happen everywhere around the world, but I never thought it would happen in Roswell – or with Mason.”

Nathaniel Tavarez, far right, unwinds with a pitch to open the 2014 Isotopes home season. Standing next to Nathaniel is Mayor Richard Berry. At far left is Dodgers representative Tommy Lasorda and Nathaniel’s schoolmate Kendal Sanders. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Nathaniel Tavarez, far right, unwinds with a pitch to open the 2014 Isotopes home season. Standing next to Nathaniel is Mayor Richard Berry. At far left is Dodgers representative Tommy Lasorda and Nathaniel’s schoolmate Kendal Sanders. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Kendal, who knew Mason but not well, also said she was not interested in “holding on to grudges.” She confessed to being “confused about why it happened,” but resigned to the reality. “I don’t have nightmares or anything, I just want it to be over and not have to talk about it anymore.”

Nathaniel’s father, Alfred Tavarez, did not know the Campbell family. “It’s a tragic thing that you don’t expect to happen and I’m sure Mason’s parents are going through their own grieving process,” he said.

His wife, Donna Tavarez, said she still questions why Mason’s parents didn’t keep firearms safely stored and locked away.

Kendal’s father, Bert Sanders, said he knows the Campbell family and went to school in Roswell with both of the boy’s parents. “They’re good people and I hope Mason gets help.”

Still, he doesn’t give them a free pass: “I’m not OK with it. I’m a parent. This happened to my kid. She was an innocent bystander and she didn’t deserve this.”

His wife, Nickie Sanders, also acknowledged “having moments where I’m angry or sad or upset,” but she says she lets it go for the sake of her daughter.

“Kendal is not holding on to any of that, so how can I?”

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