McPherson College student held on charges
By Connie Faber with files from local news media
Today the Tabor College student body and campus community honored the life of student Brandon Brown during an 11 a.m. memorial service held at Hillsboro (Kan.) MB Church. Tabor College is the Mennonite Brethren college located in Hillsboro, Kan.
The 26-year-old Tabor College football player from Sacramento, Calif., died Sept. 22 from injuries sustained the week before in an altercation that took place in McPherson, Kan.
A 19-year-old Texas man has been arrested on charges that were amended following Brown’s death to aiding and abetting murder in the second degree.
Alton Franklin, a McPherson College student from Dallas Texas, and a former member of the McPherson College football team, is being held on $500,000 bond in McPherson County Jail. A preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 3.
McPherson police, who are working with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on the case, say the investigation into Brown’s death is still ongoing.
Brown was found beaten, unconscious and unresponsive early on the morning of Sept. 16. According to a report from the McPherson Police Department, officers were dispatched to a loud music call in the 400 block of North Carrie in McPherson. Upon their arrival, officers found Brown lying just off of the street, unconscious and unresponsive.
Brown had been on life support and in critical condition at Via Christi Saint Francis Hospital in Wichita, Kan., after being airlifted from McPherson Hospital the morning of the incident. He died without regaining consciousness.
Both Tabor College and McPherson College, founded by the Brethren in Christ and located 30 miles west of Hillsboro, are struggling to deal with Brown’s death. The two colleges and their students are not strangers to one another.
Both colleges are members of the Associated Colleges of Central Kansas (ACCK), a consortium of six private, four-year, church-related liberal arts institutions located within 40 miles of McPherson. The two colleges are also members of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, and their football teams are scheduled to play one another Oct. 20.
The two colleges held prayer vigils before and after Brown’s death. Last week President Jules Glanzer of Tabor College and President Michael Schneider of McPherson College wrote open letters to the students and faculty of the other institution.
Head football coach Mike Gardner has stressed the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation to members of his squad and took that same message to McPherson College last week when he was invited to address the Bulldog football team.
“It was a horrible, violent act,” McPherson President Schneider told KWCH 12 Eyewitness News, the Wichita-based CBS affiliate. “And neither school will tolerate that.”
McPherson College has suspended Franklin and plans to suspend any other student charged in this case, says Schneider.
“We’re going to be united on this,” Schneider said, referring to his work with Tabor’s President Glanzer to help students deal with the tragedy. “We’re going to take care of each other and work through this.”
“We’re spending a lot of time praying together, reading Scripture together, asking the hard questions—how even God loves the people who have been a part of this altercation,” Glanzer told KWCH.
Family calls for peace
Brown’s family echoes the calls for peace.
“We need peace,” Ronda Holland, Brown’s mother, told KSN TV, the Wichita-based NBC affiliate. “This was senseless. No young person should die this way. We don’t want any retaliation from any of the schools.”
Brown, who transferred to Tabor from Santa Ana (Calif.) College, has a three-year-old son and a 7-month old daughter. Leaving his two young children behind in California was difficult decision says his mother.
“My son loved his children more than anything,” Holland told KSN.
Brown eventually decided that his children would be better off if he had a college degree. The opportunity to complete his education and play football—something he loves—prompted Brown to move to Kansas six weeks ago.
When medical personnel called Holland Sunday morning, they told Brown’s mother that her son had just hours to live.
“When the nurse told me that Brandon…had two hours to live, I was just devastated,” Holland told Wichita’s KAKE News, the local ABC affiliate.
Holland asked the nurse for a favor—to put the phone next to Brown’s ear.
“I told him ‘Hang on baby, I’m on my way…. Don’t you leave here until I get there.’ And they were sure that we weren’t going to make it,” Holland told KAKE.
But they did make it, and Brown held on for six more days—enough time for most of his family to fly in and say goodbye. Holland along with Brown’s father, step-father, three aunts and the mother of his seven-month old daughter all spent time with Brown before he died.
Family members sat with Brown for hours, praying with him, singing for him and holding his hand. Nurses told the family that Brown heard them.
“I needed to hold his hand,” Holland told KAKE. “I needed to release him. I needed to let him know that everything was going to be OK.”
Brown’s family visited the Tabor College campus for the first time Sunday. They say the outpouring of love and support from students and staff was overwhelming.
“We walked in and there were kids in the cafeteria just visibly crying and at one point we stopped crying because we started to cry for them,” Gretchen Garner-Easter, Brown’s great-aunt, told KAKE News.
“We know there’s still good people in the world even though its hard to think that after seeing what my son just went through,” Brown’s father Craig Brown said in a KSN TV interview.
“It is just wonderful how much love they have been pouring our way,” Holland said in a KAKE News interview.
College holds memorial service
Several speakers at Brown’s campus memorial service spoke of love—the love Brown had for his children and his family, Brown’s personality that attracted people to him in spite of his intimidating size, the love the Tabor College community has experienced from others and shown to one another during the past 10 days and the love of God.
Head Football Coach Mike Gardner thanked the college community for the love and support they have shown the football team.
“Grief does not change us, but it reveals who we are,” said Gardner. “The more we grieve, the closer God is. My hope is that you will allow God’s love to heal you and my challenge is that you will tell the people in your life that you love them,” Gardner told the audience of primarily college students.
“Today is a difficult day for us individually and as a community,” said Jim Paulus, vice president for student life. “God has displayed his love for us through our community.” Afternoon classes had been cancelled, said Paulus, so that students could spend time with each other. “For the rest of the day, be with each other in community,” he said.
Referring to the pain and hurt that many were feeling, Vice President of Athletics and Enrollment Management Rusty Allen began his memorial service message by asking those present to stand and exchange hugs. “Hugs,” said Allen, “are a universal sign of love and support.”
Reading from Isaiah 61, Allen said, “I believe God is ready to trade beauty for our ashes. Oh, I’m not saying that the grief and mourning will be forgotten or that they do not remain a healthy part of the process we are going through. But what I am saying is God can, in a flash, replace beauty for our ashes, joy for our mourning and praise for our despair.”
He asked the audience to consider what good could come from Brown’s death. “What if Brandon’s tragedy moves us to following Christ more intentionally so that our world becomes more like God intended it?”
Allen encouraged the student body to see the hurting and lost people around them. “What if Brandon’s tragedy brings us closer together? What if it changes how we view each other?” said Allen.
“We aren’t all the same, but we are brothers and sisters. We should constantly be on the lookout for each other. What if we showed respect for each other in our words and our actions, within and without one another’s presence,” said Allen.
Allen also invited those present to consider their answer to the question God will some day pose: Why should I let you into heaven? “What if Brandon’s tragedy leads someone—even one person—to make a decision for an eternity spent in heaven?”
“I believe Brandon made that decision,” said Allen.
The hour-long memorial service also included comments from President Jules Glanzer, who opened and closed the memorial service. “We don’t understand God’s ways,” said Glanzer, “but he understands us.”
Aleen Ratzlaff, Brown’s academic advisor, described Brown as a gentle man whose goals in coming to Tabor were to get his life on track, to get his college degree and to be a good father to his two children.
Josh Murphy, a teammate of Brown’s, composed and recorded a song in tribute to Brown that was played during a slide show prepared by three fellow football team members.
A fund has been established to help Brown’s family with their travel expenses and to assist his two children. To donate, contact Emprise Bank, 104 E. Grand, Hillsboro, KS 67063.