Gretchen Brown encouraged her 22-year-old daughter to go to Lawrence on Saturday night, not Westport, because of “all the violence.”
Brown thought her daughter, Leah Brown, and her best friend would be safe hanging out in the college town.
Then the call came just before 2 a.m. Sunday. It was Leah’s friend, Courtney Michelle Germany.
“You have to get to Lawrence right away,” Brown heard Germany say. “Leah’s been shot.”
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Leah Brown was one of three people killed when gunfire erupted early Sunday morning in a crowd of people at 11th and Massachusetts streets in Lawrence.
Lawrence police, whose station is nearby, reported hearing 20 gunshots about 1:40 a.m. in a city that had been busy with concerts, parties and University of Kansas basketball’s annual Late Night in the Phog.
Two Topeka men — Tre’Mel Dupree Dean, 24, and Colwin Lynn Henderson III, 20 — also died. Two other people were wounded; their injuries were not life-threatening.
Leah Brown’s mother learned from Germany that the two friends had left Brothers Bar & Grill, 1105 Massachusetts St., at closing and were heading toward their car when they saw what appeared to be a fistfight just up the street.
The two heard gunshots. Leah yelled to her friend, who was walking just a few feet in front of her, “I’ve been shot,” Brown said Germany told her. Leah took a few steps, Brown said, and then dropped to the ground.
Brown, an emergency room nurse at University of Kansas Hospital, said she pressured her daughter’s friend to find out what hospital Leah would be taken to.
“But Courtney said they told her Leah had no pulse. She said, ‘They are putting a sheet over her.’ ”
Leah Brown had been shot once in the side of her chest, her mom said.
Germany could not be reached for comment. But in a message posted Sunday afternoon on her Facebook page, she wrote; “A stray bullet from another senseless act of gun violence murdered my best friend last night....This madness needs to end! WE DIDNT GO TO WESTPORT BECAUSE WE WERE TRYING TO AVOID THIS!!!!!! ....because what’s the worst that could happen in Lawrence... So we thought☹...It still doesn’t feel real.”
Brown said her daughter, a 2013 graduate of Bishop Miege High School, had been home 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,” said Leah’s stepfather, John Carroll.
“She was a great kid,” Brown said. “She would do anything for you. A great girl. I’m just devastated.”
In high school, Leah played varsity soccer, basketball and volleyball. Brown said Leah loved sports and was “very supportive” of her younger brother Anthony, who plays football at Butler County Community College.
She loved rollerskating, her mother said, and went every Sunday night.
At Life Time Fitness in Lenexa, Leah worked in the child center. “She loved children and she was loved by the children,” Brown said. “Everyone said that maybe that was because she was just a kid herself.”
Family, friends and neighbors gathered at Brown’s Shawnee home Sunday to support her. “I’m getting lots of support,” Brown said. “I feel the support. But I just wish someone could bring her back.”
Brown clutched a photo of her daughter as she hugged friends in her driveway. She shook her head in disbelief as they talked about the shooting.
“It just seems like the violence is increasing in Lawrence.” Brown said. “I’m an ER nurse. I see all the violence in the city. I have helped to save countless people. What irony that my daughter would be a victim to this violence and I couldn’t save her.”