Helping people like Joey

Soon after the shooting, the friends Bob and Michele left behind in Maryland when they moved to Connecticut in March 2006 — just three months after Joey was born — insisted there must be a way to help. The Gays were resolute in their commitment to raising money in Joey's name for autism, and a meeting of friends and colleagues at the home of Lauren Esakoff spawned the idea for Joey's Purple Ball.

"Joey's Purple Ball was very much hatched by our Baltimore friends," Michele said. "We loved it. We supported it right from the get-go."

Some of the organizers are Bob's friends from Calvert Hall, Towson University and his time at MCI and University of Maryland University College, among others. Michele's friends from her teaching days, plus high school friends she said she hasn't seen in 25 years, also got involved.

The gala will feature a pair of live bands, local and national celebrities, and a silent auction, organizers said. All proceeds from the gala fundraiser at Bob's alma mater, Calvert Hall, will go to The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.

"That's what our focus is," Bob said. "People are choosing to deal with this a lot of ways publicly, but what we want to do with it is have people help people like (Joey)."

Michele said her involvement with the local and national autism community became "a life's work."

"We were the folks applying for grants like we're giving out now, but it's a very special community of people — fellow travelers — and you learn a lot from one another, you support one another, and you realize what special gifts you have in your kids," she said.

Even the title of the event is meaningful for the family. All three of Bob and Michele's daughters grew to love the Ravens while sitting at their father's side every Sunday watching his hometown team.

Each season, Bob would get each of his girls a new Ravens jersey, and without fail, each of the new purple jerseys would soon go missing.

"(Joey) would see everyone's jersey, and the next thing you know, they'd be in her room," Bob said.

After hearing their story, Ravens cornerback Chris Johnson reached out to the family and provided tickets to the Ravens' playoff game against the Colts.

"He gave us a jersey that said Joey on the back, No. 7," Bob said. "People ask, 'Did you frame the jersey?' My wife and daughters take turns wearing it."

Joey's Purple Ball will be held on Saturday, June 8 at Calvert Hall College High School, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets for the event cost $100, while for an additional $50 attendees may spend time with the Gay family during a VIP event beginning at 6 p.m. All proceeds will be donated to Joey's Fund, which was established as part of The Doug Flutie Jr., Foundation for Autism. For tickets, visit http://joeyspurpleball.eventbrite.com/. To donate to Joey's Fund, visit http://www.flutiefoundation.org/Donate-Joeys-Fund.asp.