'A Hero': Iraq Veteran Died Shielding Her Kids from Car

Kharisma Ashlee James. Photo courtesy of Women's Fund of El Paso
Kharisma Ashlee James. Photo courtesy of Women's Fund of El Paso

NEW BEDFORD, Massachusetts -- She risked her life for her country in Iraq, but laid it down for three children in a school parking lot.

Kharisma Ashlee James, a 2003 graduate of New Bedford High School, died Aug. 13 in El Paso, Texas, trying to protect her son, daughter and another boy from getting hit by a driver who was backing out of a parking space.

"She passed the same way she lived, as a hero," said Ian Abreu, a New Bedford city councilor who knew James from Drama Club and Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp at New Bedford High School.

An eight-year U.S. Army veteran, she served two tours in Iraq and attained the rank of sergeant, according to her obituary.

James' children, whom the El Paso Times identified as Justus Holland, 7, and Jasmine Holland, 6, were hurt in the accident but able to attend a prayer vigil on Saturday. The third child, Athindra Sathish Kumar, 10, remained at El Paso Children's Hospital, the Times reported.

After she moved to Texas, James earned her bachelor's degree in nursing. She worked as an operating room nurse in El Paso.

Her New Bedford relatives include a brother, Milford "Butchie" James III, who is a dean at City on a Hill Charter School in New Bedford.

"I love and miss you Kharisma James," he wrote on Facebook. "God gave you such incredible strength and courage to always do what was right in order to show your love to everyone you met."

Other relatives include an aunt and an uncle, Dorothy James and Milford James Jr., of New Bedford, and two sisters, Alisha (James) Morrissey of Norwood and Amanda Marie James of Atlanta, according to the obituary.

James, 33, was deeply involved in her children's football and cheerleading club, the Westside Mustangs.

"In the short period of time that I've known Kharisma, she's managed to touch a lot of people's hearts here in El Paso," said Susan Fernandez, director of the Mustangs.

Fernandez said James participated in every fundraiser and always cheered for the kids.

"She was a hero in more ways than one," she said.

The El Paso Times identified the children's father as Burton Holland and provided a link to his apparent Facebook page, which is under a DJ name. On it, he posted a farewell letter to James in which he promised to be the best father he can be.

"We had some very challenging moments but when it came to the kids we was a TEAM!" he wrote. "Learning how to be friends again for the sake of our children was one of our greatest achievements as co-parents for us."

El Paso officials told local media that the 58-year-old driver had picked up his grandchildren on the first day of school and may have hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

The El Paso Times identified the driver as Roger Hawking. El Paso Independent School District police Chief Victor Araiza told the Times that Hawking was not familiar with the car. The accident is still under investigation.

In New Bedford, Abreu said he remembers James as someone who could be very funny without being disrespectful.

"She had a very quick wit about her," he said. "The world's a sadder place without her for sure."

James was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery. A local memorial service will be held Saturday, Aug. 25, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Saunders-Dwyer Home for Funerals, 495 Park St., New Bedford.

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This article is written by Jennette Barnes from The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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