After son’s murder, Lori Brown works toward a safer society
Tuesday will be the one-year anniversary of day that no one in Graham wants to recall, and a day that Lori Brown will remember for the rest of her life.
On May 1, 2017 Harrison Brown, a 2016 graduate of Graham High School and son of Lori and Dr. Kurt Brown, died of injuries sustained during a stabbing spree by a fellow student on the University of Texas campus that also injured three other male students. Brown was murdered by Kindred J. White, 21, who is still facing trial for the murder and is attempting to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
“When and if it goes to trial I will be there to fight and represent Harrison,” Lori Brown said. “I have really become aware of our justice system and really, the victim really has no rights at this point and it is very slow, very frustrating and at times it has been very hard for me to stay quiet because I know this man murdered my son and they are concerned about his rights, where, what about my son’s rights?”
Only one month after the loss of her son, Brown was faced with another horrible tragedy, when on June 5, her husband, who was in the final stages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, also died. Though the family has been through unimaginable suffering, Lori and her oldest son John are slowly recovering.
One year later
Brown taught at Graham ISD for about 15 years, most of the time at Woodland Elementary, teaching Science and Social Studies. She has returned to Woodland after taking a break, but has taken on a different role than she used to have on the campus.
“It has been good for me. The routine has been good for me. I am still a teacher, but in a different position, so that’s worked out real well,” she said.
“I don’t have homeroom. I don’t have grades. I am the challenge lab teacher/ gifted and talented teacher, so by the end of the week every fourth- and fifth-grader has come through my door and that’s been good and the kids are really sweet and they make me laugh and they make me smile, so it has been good.”
On Monday, Harrison will be honored at the GISD Scholarship Ceremony when a student will be receiving a scholarship in his name. Brown will not be present to give the award due to other plans.
“My son, John, graciously volunteered and he is going to come and represent our family to present the scholarship,” she said.
“I am so proud that his scholarship has grown so much and the interest and support that his scholarship has received is just overwhelming sometimes. The Graham community continues to envelop my family and I am very proud, and Harrison would be extremely proud and very, very happy that this scholarship for a Graham High School student will help make higher education possible for them, and that’s awesome.”
John graduated from GHS and UT Austin and during the murder was taking a final at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio. The school was already aware of his father’s condition and were understanding when it came to going to see his brother. Brown said that her oldest son’s outlook on the events is to move forward.
“He believes that his dad, whom he adored, and his brother would want him and I to live life like no other and make him proud,” she said.
So much money flowed in from around the world in support of Harrison – both to Brown family and UT Austin – that an endowment was established. Brown said she believes the impact this money will make on those receiving it is one that Harrison would appreciate.
“Of course, every mother thinks their child is a superstar,” she said. “I never realized the impact he had on people’s lives and sadly, you hear about a lot of these things after they are gone, and I am proud and I know my husband is proud, too. You know, we are proud of both of our boys. I am so proud of the young man Harrison was and the things he did in his short life and how he impacted people and how he continues to impact people.”
The scholarship in Harrison’s name that will be presented for the first time to a GHS student at the scholarship ceremony had a surprise announcement back in February, Brown said.
“I am so thankful for the Graham community as a whole.” Lori Brown said. “I mean, there were just so many wonderful things that I can’t even begin to name them all, but the recent very large donation from the President’s Charity Ball was pretty phenomenal and with a donation like that, it has since then been invested and hopefully this particular scholarship will exist for a very long time and do good things.”
The scholarship fund was one of four organizations that split a check for $50,000 from the President’s Charity Ball organization in Graham. The giving didn’t start this year, but almost immediately after the Harrison’s death, people in Graham were looking to lend a hand to the Brown family.
“There were people calling, volunteering, and plans had already been made for me to get on Jack and Win’s (Graham) plane (to quickly go to Austin),” she said. “They both were UT graduates and both of my boys, John and Harrison, were the recipients of the Edwin Graham UT (Memorial) Scholarship as well, and I have had their children in school, so that was pretty special and very meaningful for me. There were at least four other people, not including the Grahams, that were trying to make arrangements to get their planes ready to get me down there.”
Brown said as her sons grew up, she hoped they had compassion towards others and kindness. Those qualities are seen in Harrison’s friends, who check up on Brown and tell her stories of her son, she said.
“When they are in town they come over to my house as a group and we just sit around and they tell me stories about Harrison,” she said. “They could tell me those stories over and over again and I just love to hear them and they miss him, they do, they miss him and, you know, it makes my heart hurt for them too, because they have all known each other since preschool and their group, which was a very large group of students, just remained pretty close and to this day are still pretty close friends.”
North Central Texas College has also set up a scholarship in Harrison’s name, and the family received over $100,000 from a GoFundMe page set up for the Brown family. The family is using the funds on the scholarship as well as for a program called Hangers from Harrison, which provides dress clothes for those who need them for interviews and work after high school.
“It hasn’t stopped, you know,” she said. “I feel like I have so many little families here. I have my Woodland family, my Graham ISD family. I have my friends, my church – we belong to St. Mary’s Catholic Church – and all of Harrison’s friends, every time they are home they stop by to check on me or bring me something or text me and it is just a beautiful thing. It really is, and I am blessed to live in a community that cares for one another the way that the people of Graham, Texas do.”
A call to action
Since the murder of her son, Brown has a new path in life – she has to visit Austin for court dates and to push safety across campuses in Texas.
“Recently I was in Austin visiting with some of Gov. Abbott’s employees and I am pushing towards public safety on college campus or university campuses and schools,” she said. “I am going to start getting with our local legislators and also some reps in Austin, too, and try to poke some holes into this bill that was passed right after Harrison was murdered.”
That bill is HB 1935, passed by the Texas legislature Sept. 1, 2017, which is focused on the ability to wield knifes in many locations.
“A lot of Texans don’t realize what that bill means is, pretty much almost anywhere, you can wield any type of a knife and it’s totally legal, you know, with the exception of college campuses and schools,” she said.
“So that knife is still illegal on a college campus, but we have to figure out a way of keeping those knifes off of college campuses, whether it metal detectors or background checks, licenses, age limits or put some certain things into place.”
Brown is working with a Facebook group called Safe Horns, made up of parents of UT Austin students who are working to change campus response times, awareness and other safety precautions. She is also working though the month of May on UT Austin’s Be Safe program, that was put in place after the events of May 1, and has increased police patrols by UTPD, Austin Police Department and the DPS along with increased lighting, changes to vegetation, new security systems, monitoring of social media and increased proactivity.
“When Harrison was stabbed, it was in the middle of the day at one of the busiest times on campus in the busiest spot on the campus,” she said.
“There were thousands and thousands of students there and I think a lot of them did know … they didn’t actually think it was what it was, and what was happening was actually happening, and unfortunately, after he was stabbed he was the one that went up to a friend and said ‘I have been stabbed, call 911.’”
When the legislature meets back in session in January 2019, Brown said she is will try to make a name for herself among those that will be a part of it.
“John and I always knew at some point and we thought when the legislature is back in session in January 2019 that we would try to get some changes made … When that happened in Florida, and I really didn’t watch any of the footage, I couldn’t because I know what those parents are going through and what that phone call is like,” she said.
“I saw those students marching and they were in Tallahassee and I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, the time is now for me to do this,’ so ever since then I have been pretty active, pretty busy making phone calls, doing my homework, researching, you know, trying to get my name out in front of people, get me in front of people and so maybe by the time the legislature is back in session they’ll go, ‘there comes Harrison’s mother.’”