Shay Kivlen, a survivor of the tragic shooting at a Madden tournament in Jacksonville, Florida last week that left two gamers dead, has joined forces with Parkland activist Cameron Kasky and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans to raise money for the victims’ families.
Kivlen, whose gamer name is “Young Kiv,” spoke with Townhall Thursday about his experience at the tournament and how people have banded together to help his gaming family in the wake of such an awful tragedy.
After losing his friends and fellow gamers Elijah Clayton and Taylor Robertson in the shooting, Kivlen received an outpouring of support on social media that eventually led him to connect with Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky.
Kasky helped organize a fundraising event that will feature Kivlen playing Madden against NFL player Mike Evans, on Monday at 2:30pm EST through the livestream fundraising platform Tiltify to raise money for the families.
“I’ve heard a lot of great things about him and I mean he jumped on the opportunity right away which is amazing to see,” Kivlen said of Evans. “It’s just nice to see him make that time to help support these families.”
Cameron Kasky spoke with Townhall about his initial reaction to the shooting and his desire to organize something to help those affected.
“Seeing a shooting like that it brings me back to such a horrible time,” he said referencing the deadly February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, “but my first thought was so many people after the shooting at my school were instantly able to say ‘okay, you know this horrible thing has made me so upset that I want to help these kids.’ So many people reached out and tried to help so I thought, you know, the best thing, thinking about that situation, would be to reach out to them in Jacksonville.”
He connected quickly with Shay who he said, in addition to being a top-ranked Madden player, is “a great guy” who’s “going through something that I went through and that’s a horrible connection we both have, a strong one.”
Kasky expressed frustration at the speed with which he feels that the media’s moved on from the Jacksonville shooting as the community continues to try to make sense of what happened.
“There are a lot of things going on that people want to cover,” he acknowledged, “but I feel like this shooting that happened less than a week ago was already forgotten…and I want to do everything I can to make sure that these people are not forgotten and these families are treated with kindness, respect, and compassion.”
He also commented on the extent to which politics have been put aside in the immediate effort to help those affected by the tragedy. He praised his classmate Kyle Kashuv’s support for the fundraiser despite their political differences on legislative solutions to the problem of mass shootings.
“Some things are not a political situation, some things are, they’re moral situations,” he emphasized, saying things like the fundraising livestream helps focus the efforts of those who want to help.
“All our efforts after the Jacksonville shooting are based around helping these families and helping these victims,” he said.
Kivlen expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support he’s seen from Kasky and others after his harrowing ordeal at the tournament.
He’d briefly stepped away from that tournament Sunday to get some rest after losing some games. He described lying in bed in a hotel room a mile away watching the tournament’s livestream when he heard the gunshots.
“I could just hear the gunshots and at first I thought it was something, because we were playing in a bar basically, and I thought someone might have come into the bar and was trying to like rob the place or something but then shots just started coming down and there was a lot of them so I got up out of my bed and I was freaking out, I was panicking,” he recounted.
After a round of frantic calls, he finally got in touch with a friend at the event.
“He was stuck in the bathroom of the venue with about thirty other players, they were just hiding,” Kivlen said. “He was crying on the phone and he told me that he thought my friend Elijah was dead and he told me he talked to an EA employee that was at the tournament and he told me that the employee told him that he thought I was a target because, as I was leaving the tournament, the shooter asked the EA employee where I was going and this was like fifteen minutes before it happened.”
Kivlen had to have a police guard in his hotel room until the shooter was confirmed dead.
He described “trying to hold on to as much hope as I had that Elijah wasn’t dead and that he was still alive, but I talked to multiple people and they told me that they saw him in his chair and he looked lifeless and they told me that they saw Taylor on the ground and they thought he was dead too.”
Initially, he said he and his fellow gamers “just sat in the room together just crying and talking about what happened, just so confused.”
“We have a really tight community at these events that’s why it was so surprising and confusing why this happened,” Kivlen explained. “We all go out to eat together and we hang out and stuff and it’s just really surprising to see someone from our community do this because we’re just, we’re a really tight-knit community.”
As he works through the grief and shock of what happened, Kivlen said he’s been able to draw comfort from the support he’s received.
“When something like this happens to you, you lose a lot of hope,” he said, “but seeing all these people come together it’s really been heartwarming to see for me…the support from everyone across our nation and across the world.”