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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Friends of Avila family struggle for answers

TAMPA — It seemed to be the All-American family.

When Darrin and Kim Campbell moved from Michigan to Tampa in 2000 with their children, Colin and Megan, they quickly became fixtures in the northwest Hillsborough County community of Westchase.

The family won the subdivision's “Best Decorated Holiday Home'' contest an unprecedented four consecutive times. The gates of Harbor Links, located along the community's golf course, were opened so visiting families could watch the elaborate display. The family's electric bill rose $800 so people donated money to defray expenses.

The Campbells didn't keep the money, though; they donated it to Metropolitan Ministries. That, friends said, was just how the family was.

Darrin was a business executive and doting father. Kim was a stay-at-home mom, active in community work and her children's school activities. Colin, 18, became a sweet-swinging baseball star, first at Keystone Little League, then at Carrollwood Day School. Megan, 15, was an honor student and dancer.

Today, friends and family members have the same question: What went so terribly wrong?

This week, when the family's $1.6-million rental home in Avila was destroyed by Wednesday's pre-dawn fire, when the bodies of all four family members were found inside, when the sheriff's office said Darrin Campbell had shot his wife and children and set the home on fire, there were no immediate answers.

The Campbell family left Westchase two years ago and moved to the exclusive Avila neighborhood, where they rented a home owned by James Blake, a former professional tennis player. Nearby homes were owned by millionaire athletes like retired New York Yankees pitcher Mariono Rivera and slugger Nick Swisher.

“I'm just numb,'' said Tony Dessi, who was one of Colin's coaches at Keystone Little League. “It makes no sense. I still can't believe it.

“You know how you have that picture in your mind of the ideal family? That was this family. They were good people. It just gives you a pit in your stomach that you can't get rid of. It's so sad and so tragic.''

The real tragedy, friends said, was the unrealized potential of Megan and Colin, who both attended Carrollwood Day School, a private 845-student institution that serves children from preschool through high school. It's located on a gated, pastoral 37-acre tract in northwest Hillsborough County.

Both children loved to visit Disney World and play miniature golf with their parents.

Megan, dedicated to dance, also regularly went to the beach. She was a fan of Beyonce and love to go to movies. She particularly liked “The Hunger Games.''

Colin, who recently attended his senior prom, was a football fan, following the Bucs, Denver Broncos and the University of Michigan Wolverines. His favorite restaurant was IHOP.

Baseball, though, was his biggest passion.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he batted .390 as an outfielder for the CDS Patriots and made the Tampa Tribune's All-Hillsborough County honorable mention team as a sophomore. Coaches felt he had a future in college baseball. Colin's skills were evident at an early age.

“Colin always had this incredibly smooth left-handed batting stroke,'' said Paul Sickmon, one of his former coaches at Keystone Little League. “His dad worked with him forever. I mean, forever.

“I can't tell you how many times I came to the ballpark, whether it was a practice or a game, and Darrin and Colin were always there. They were the first to arrive and the last to leave. He threw to him in the cages for hours upon hours. I've never seen a father spend so much time throwing to his son like that – ever. Colin worked at it and that mature kind of swing he had, particularly at an early age, was so unique.''

Darrin Campbell, 49, served as a coach for some of Colin's teams, but friends said he never showed signs of being an overbearing parent. Rather, he was content to help where needed in a low-key manner. Almost always, he drove Colin's teammates home after practices and games because other parents worked late.

In 2008, when Colin played in the 12-year-old division at Keystone Little League, rival Citrus Park won the district, section, state and Southeast Region all-star tournaments, making it all the way to the Little League World Series and the youth sports mecca of Williamsport, Pa.

“As far as we went that year, Keystone was my biggest fear in the district tournament, really because of Colin Campbell,'' said Citrus Park Little League parent and former high-school coach Bud Merrell, whose son, Kevin, now plays at Steinbrenner High and has signed a baseball scholarship with the University of South Florida. “He was a dominating player, a dominating force. He was the type of guy who could beat you with his bat or beat you with his arm.

“He probably could've done something (in baseball beyond high school). Now we'll never know.''

Grief counselors were summoned to the CDS campus as students struggled with learning the news. Strong emotions flowed everywhere. Just one night before the fire, friends from Jesuit High School visited Colin at his home. The next day, upon hearing about the tragedy, shaken and devastated, they were sent home early from school.

Colin had former youth-baseball teammates and friends playing at Jesuit, Steinbrenner, Sickles and Alonso. When he wasn't playing, he was usually at another game to support his friends. Sometimes, his father tagged along.

“This whole thing affects a lot of people,'' said CDS softball coach Chuck Fest, whose Patriots competed in Friday's Class 3A state semifinals at Vero Beach, where players wore the initials “CJC'' and “MLC'' on their left uniform sleeves to honor Colin and Megan. “It's a very small school, a very tightly focused community, and of course it affects the girls.

“Trying to get them focused to win the state championship when a tragedy of this magnitude happens is not easy on any level. It wouldn't be easy for a professional team. This is one of the most memorable weekends of their lives and to have this (tragedy), it's hard. I think they want to honor their memories and think about the good times.''

When Colin was in the eighth grade, when the family's Westchase home drew crowds for winning the holiday decorating contest, he had the idea of using donated funds for Metropolitan Ministries, which he learned about during a school project three years earlier.

Eventually, the Campbell family presented a check for $3,733 to the charity.

“It was definitely worth it,'' Colin said in an interview with the World of Westchase, the community's monthly magazine.

He was asked if he planned on donating money to the charity the following December.

Colin had a quick answer.

“You bet.''

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Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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