Angel Story: Brandi, And The Thief In The Night

 

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“She was always off on some kind of adventure. Heck, her life was one big adventure, whether she was camping on the beach or floating down the Comal River. She loved the water”

As I interviewed Brandi’s mamma for a featured “Angel Story” I found myself in awe at the strength of the woman telling me the story of her daughter who was stolen from her family when she was just 22 years old. Brandi was a fun loving kid who did well in school, and “rarely had to study”. Her mamma described her as the “life of the party” and followed up by telling me “she WAS the party”.

Brandi participated in pageants until she was 15 years old. She had an older brother who she called her “ketchup baby” because she put ketchup on everything, including his food! When she was 18, she and her brother walked her mamma down the aisle and Brandi gained 2 sisters in the process. Her room was a mess because she couldn’t be bothered to slow down enough to clean it. Her mamma told me that she was always on the go, but knew that she could always come home, and often did, for a warm meal and a mamma’s hug. She’d often show up at the last minute for a meal, and when she did her mamma knew that she was feeling down—and her favorite therapy was Disney movies and a beer with friends. Brandi loved lady bugs and had one tattooed on her foot. Her family now calls them “Brandi Bugs”. She loved animals and was always bringing home a stray and when she was murdered one of her beloved animals survived the torture that took her life and was found days later. She was loved by so many and even in death it was obvious to her family that their baby girl had very few, if any, enemies, and this is why her murder is difficult to understand.

Brandi was on break from college and working as a server in a restaurant where she’d worked since she was 15 years old. She didn’t bring her boyfriends around a lot but from what Brandi’s family knew of her murderer, he was a nice young man who seemed polite and seemed to care about the pageant winning, water loving, adventure seeking ketchup loving baby girl.

She lived with him for 3 weeks before that horrible Thanksgiving night when every thing changed. They’d spend the day celebrating Thanksgiving with family and ended up in a bar with some friends. This was the day that her boyfriend would become a thief in the night. Witnesses later testified that he and Brandi were arguing and a few times Brandi went outside to hide her tears and regain her composure. Many people at the bar offered her a ride home and she refused. She refused because he told her that if she left him that he would never speak to her again. He’d been exerting control over her for weeks since her car was broken and she depended on him for everything. They lived out in the country and she depended on him for everything. She had plans to move in with her father, but never got that chance. Because of the thief in the night, did what thieves do, he stole every next moment she would have.

We will never know whether the arguments of that night were related to her leaving him, but statistics tell us that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is after one removes themselves from the situation.

They continued to argue (and drink) that fateful night so neither of them were fit to drive, both of them had a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit. But that did not stop him from driving anyway.

She didn’t know he had a gun. He legally possessed it for 3 months before that night. Later, it would be revealed that he had some mental illness issues and never should have been granted the gun legally, but he had been—and Brandi found that gun pointed at her head as he was driving down the road after they left the bar.

Her mama told me that after he pulled the trigger she likely did not suffer and if she did the alcohol she’d consumed likely helped with what must have been paralyzing fear. After shooting her, he drove past several hospitals and made one phone call to a friend. He admitted to killing the Brandi. He then attempted to crash the vehicle into his house in an attempt to take his own life. When that did not work, he dragged her dead body into the house, set the house on fire, laid on top of her and took his last breath less than an hour he’d stolen her last breath from her. Her mamma told me when it came time to lay her to rest they had to finish what he started and were unable to give her the funeral she deserved. In a cruel twist of fate, her body had to be cremated before her family and friends could say goodbye to the beautiful ladybug loving, family loving, water loving, beautiful daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend.

Brandi’s mamma wanted to make it clear to me that they did not LOSE Brandi to domestic violence; rather she was STOLEN from them. Because that is what domestic violence does, it steals–it steals dignity. It steals value. It steals lives. And even though Brandi’s family is breathing air, the memory of her and her loss brings painful breaths. Almost 8 years later, I could feel the pain in the words of Brandi’s mamma as she told me the story.

For families like Brandi’s, life is never the same. Many people don’t understand that this kind of loss often results in other horrible things like divorce, bankruptcy, severe illness and most of all a lifetime of grief. Senseless acts like this cannot be grasped by the human mind, much less a mother of a 22- year old beautiful girl who had her entire life in front of her. Brandi can no longer snuggle up with that fuzzy blanket and watch Disney movies with her friends. Her mamma will never see her happily married with a family of her own. She will never have the opportunity to see if Brandi would pass her love for ketchup on to her children. Her brother probably can’t even pick up a bottle of ketchup. All of them think of Brandi when they see a ladybug. I read once that “water will make a coward of us all” and while that may be true in the practical sense, this water loving baby girl was no coward. None of us can begin to understand what those last moments must have been like for her. As she felt the metal of the gun on her temple, I am sure her mama and her siblings flashed through her mind—she’d not told any of them about the verbal and emotional abuse she’d been enduring. And while Brandi’s mamma knows it wasn’t her fault, even in her communication with me I could feel the misguided guilt. One of the hallmarks of a domestic violence relationship is isolation and lies. Brandi had done both and her family had no reason to believe she was living with a monster. And somehow they must find a way to go on; and 8 years later I am sure it feels like it was yesterday, because we just aren’t wired to bury our babies.

When I asked Brandi’s mama what an organization like “Break The Silence” meant to her answer to me was simple.

“After losing my daughter to domestic violence, BTS reached out to me at a time when my own biological family were at a loss of what to say or do. They wrapped me in love and helped me put one foot in front of the other. They were my strength when I had none. Then, as my healing began, they gave me courage to do the same for others that have suffered the same as I. BTS is love. Pure love”

Those of us who are part of the BTS family agree. But we need your help to continue to reach families like Brandy’s. If you are interested in helping in any way, please visit https://www.breakthesilencedv.org/become-a-member/and consider either a one- time gift or a reoccurring gift to this life giving organization. Portions of monies donated are set-aside for angel families like Brandi’s.

As far as Brandi’s mamma is concerned, she remains a light and a pillar of hope to us all. Thank you Tammy for allowing us to tell your story. I know you want more than anything to never see another story like Brandi’s in the news or even within our survivor sister organization. As for Brandi, this world misses her light, and we will spend the rest of our days telling her story; may she rest in peace and may her story serve to educate those who do not understand that this is prevalent in our society. May each breath not hurt for you, and may the peace that passes all understanding guard your heart. Your BTS family loves you!

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