This Army veteran won Super Bowl tickets, but it was so much more than a game

Jessica Manfre
Feb 17, 2023 10:53 AM PST
4 minute read
jj watt with veteran


When Army veteran Richard Hart won two Super Bowl tickets through Vet Tix, he thought that was the biggest and…

When Army veteran Richard Hart won two Super Bowl tickets through Vet Tix, he thought that was the biggest and most exciting thing to ever happen to him. More was coming.

A Legacy of Service

The family has a long history of service with Richard’s father and uncles all serving before he enlisted himself during the Vietnam War. He would drive the last family of a fallen Vietnam War soldier to Arlington National Cemetery as he finished his enlistment. Decades later, his own children would raise their right hands for the Army just before America was attacked on 9/11. It wouldn’t be the only attack they’d go through as a family. 

On May 18, 2018, he received a frantic call from his daughter, Rhonda Hart. Her words would change everything. 

“There’s an active shooter at Kimberly’s school.”

Richard immediately turned on the news to see what was going on at his granddaughter’s high school. “I was just devastated watching it unfold. Rhonda called me later that afternoon to tell me Kimberly was killed,” he shared. 

Eight students and two teachers were killed by the gunman that day; Kimberly was just 14 years old. “She loved Harry Potter, her brother and being a Girl Scout. She was such a nice kid and just loved everyone,” Rhonda said. “Her back was to the door and she never stood a chance because of where she was sitting in the art room.”

An Act of Kindness

Days later, NFL star JJ Watt paid for all of the funerals of the victims through his foundation. When Richard and Rhonda walked into the funeral home to take care of Kimberly’s service, they were floored with the gift. 

The months after the shooting were rough. Richard moved in with Rhonda for six months to take care of her and his grandson while they all attempted to heal from the devastation of Kimberly’s death. They both became active in working for common sense gun legislation to help prevent school shootings. 

Advocacy for Kimberly

In June 2022, the United States House of Representatives passed the Kimberly Vaughan Safe Storage Act. The bill establishes a federal statutory framework to regulate the storage of firearms and their ammunition in residential homes. Recently, Rhonda and other family members of victims won a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the ammunition the shooter purchased underage – due to their not being age verification in place on the website. 

Now it will be. 

Photo courtesy of Rhonda Hart

As the NFL playoffs were heating up, Richard got the notice he’d won a pair of tickets to the Super Bowl through VetTix. When he met the leadership at the USAA Salute to Service Lounge, he saw JJ Watt in the background. 

The Super Bowl

“I looked at Steve [Steven Weintraub, Chief Strategy Officer for VetTix] in disbelief and shared the story of what JJ had done for my granddaughter,” he explained. 

Within minutes, he was standing in front of the football player whose gift in a time of unimaginable loss created a moment of good. “He was so kind and kept asking how my family was doing. I shared our gratitude for what he did and it was just an incredible experience,” Richard added. 

After spending time and getting some autographs – it was time for the big game. “I never in a million years thought I’d ever have the opportunity to attend a Super Bowl. The energy and magnitude of it all was overwhelming,” he explained. 

Rhonda was over-the-moon for her dad and the experience he got to have. “I just love this for him and I am so grateful he had a chance to thank JJ Watt in person on behalf of our family. [Watt] didn't have to do what he did and it was so meaningful,” she added. 

As the excitement of the Super Bowl and spending time with the football player who impacted their lives during a devastating time fades, both veterans remain committed to having tough conversations. For Kimberly. 

“I have nothing against guns. I'm a gun-owning vet myself,” Richard said. “But we have to do something. Red flag laws and better universal background checks aren’t infringing on second amendment rights.” 

Rhonda echoed his words with a few of her own. “We have this invisible survivors network. I'm friends with the folks from other school shootings which happened across the country and we don’t want anyone else to join our club,” she implored. “No one wants to come and take your guns. I just want people to be responsible gun owners and support simple measures to keep them out of the hands of people who aren’t. For Kimberly and everyone else we’ve lost.”


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