The sun stayed hidden behind a cloudy sky Friday morning and Gretchen Brown said her last good-byes to her daughter, Leah Brown.
“A parent should never have to bury their child, I am devastated, ” Brown had said five days earlier just hours after a stray bullet had ripped through Leah Brown’s torso, killing the 22-year-old on the streets of Lawrence, Kan.
She was one of three people killed when gunfire erupted as bars closed in the college town in the early morning hours of Oct. 1. Two others were injured.
On Friday, hundreds of Leah Brown’s friends and family members filled the seats at Queen of the Holy Rosary church in Overland Park, where they remembered and honored her life in a Catholic mass.
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“Amazing Grace” filled the church where Leah had been baptized. Her casket, draped in white cloth, was rolled before the pulpit.
The Rev. William Bruning spoke about Leah Brown’s humor, strong will and how she inspired her friends.
He mentioned how she would tease her grandfather and brother Anthony, a defensive tackle at Butler Community College, saying Leah was the only one who could tell her brother what to do. Laughter rose from the congregation.
Bruning said Leah Brown collected people. “Once you were her people, you were family,” he said.
“She loved elephants,” Bruning said, “And an elephant never forgets... remember how she loved.”
Bruning said Leah Brown “accepted people where they were and you never had to question where she was, because she would let you know.”
Roller skating was something Leah Brown did every weekend. She rode a motorcycle, she worked in the child center at Lifetime Fitness. She loved children, and “she was loved by the children,” her mother had said.
A 2013 graduate of Bishop Miege High School, Leah Brown had been home this summer in Shawnee on medical leave from basic training at the U.S. Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., and planned to return there later this fall.
“She wanted to be a Navy jet mechanic,” Leah’s stepfather, John Carroll, had told The Star earlier this week.
“This girl was fully alive,” Bruning said during the mass. “Her life was beautiful and it was a gift to the world and this world was better because Leah was in it. She cast her light into the darkness. She cast her love into the darkness and it was filled.”
He did not fail to mention the violence that ended Leah Brown’s life.
Gretchen Brown, an emergency room nurse at University of Kansas Hospital, told The Star last Sunday after the shooting that she had encouraged her daughter to hang out in Lawrence rather than in Westport, where there seemed to be an increase in violence.
Her daughter had gone to Lawrence with her friend Courtney Michelle Germany. As the two left It’s Brothers Bar and Grill they noticed what appeared to be a fistfight on the street. Then they heard gunfire. A bullet hit Leah Brown. She took a few steps toward her friend and collapsed. She died with Germany kneeling beside her.
“How do we respond to violence?” Bruning asked, “We face it with love. Love is always better than hatred and love is always better than violence.”