Saturday, November 8, 2008

In Memory of Brandon Crisp...

Brandon Crisp was a 15-year old youth who had an argument with his parents, left his house, and died a tragic death in October 2008.

A quick google search for 'Brandon Crisp' will reveal hundreds of news articles chronicling the sad story of the search for Brandon as a missing person, culminating in the discovery of his body by hunters just over three weeks after his disappearance.

I've started this blog to share some thoughts about why this story has had such a dramatic effect on so many people that had never known Brandon - people such as myself. It's not meant to share any earth-shattering information, but more to share a few observances and to remember a life that was taken away all too soon.

Brandon left home at 3pm on (Canadian) Thanksgiving day, October 13th, 2008. He had an argument with his parents, who had taken away his xbox video game system after he became infatuated with the game "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare", and spent significant amounts of time playing the game, also affecting his school work. He claimed he would leave home over the argument, his parents calling his bluff - ie "don't forget your coat, it could get cold".

I first heard about the story later that week, as the police posted Brandon as a missing person, and searches were begun. My attention was likely first caught by the "video game addiction" angle that the parents and media had stressed, since I myself am in the video game development business. But for some reason this story drew me in, emotionally, much more than any previous story of this type.

Lets face it, children go missing all the time, sometimes in very tragic circumstances. Some cases even get extensive media coverage. But for me this was different. Was it because Brandon reminded me of myself at his age, or of other children that I knew more closely? Maybe that had something to do with it. Certainly the pictures of Brandon help cement the emotional bond ... is a picture worth a thousand words? Looking at Brandon, we can see a young teen who is short for his age, slight build, maybe the word "vulnerable" might fit... It's sad to say that first impressions can have an effect, but if this case was a gruff looking heavy-built teen, it would have been different. Yet Brandon's story immediately generated a feeling that this was a youth that needed our help, and needed to be found and reunited with a family that obviously cared very much for him.

I joined the Facebook group "Where is Brandon Crisp" - a group that grew to be over 22,000 strong before his body was found - and I started learning a lot more about him. He had a twin sister, and an older sister. Seemed relatively active - snowboarding, playing hockey, spending time on the water of nearby Lake Simcoe, and so. A Facebook member with 259 friends. And he had a lot of people that cared about him. Some of the early comments in the Facebook group were from schoolmates and family, all imploring him to come him, telling him how much he was missed.

As late October turned into early November, it became increasingly difficult to keep up hope. The Facebook group was full of posters with consipracy theories and occasional crude comments, police and volunteer search teams had turned up no trace, examination of the xbox and Brandon's online account had revealed no clues, and the fact that Brandon had not show any sign of activity - no online logins, no contact with friends, and so on - had the possibilities looking increasingly bleak. I was unable to get to barrier for the volunteer searches organized in October, but I wracked my thoughts with ways that I might be able to help. Where did Brandon go? What could have happened that would result in no sign from him? Was he too scared or embarressed to come home, knowing what a huge effort had been put in to his case? Was he unable to come home, abducted or held against his will? Did everyone get it wrong and misjudge that Brandon would truly 'run away' over a seemingly minor argument?

On November 5th, the unthinkable became fact when hunters found his body in a wooded area, just beyond the ground search areas.

It was a thread in the Facebook group that alerted me to the news, first carried by the CP24 news service, that a body likely to be Brandon's was found. By that time I had been following both the story and Brandon's life for more than two weeks, and even with the sense of impending tragedy, the news was a huge blow.

So why would I get so emotionally attached to a boy and his family that I had never met and lived almost 100 miles away? Or is this just a case of "internet rubbernecking", an infatuation with a story that I really had no business in getting involved with?

Well, the story of Brandon Crisp has touched me, in a way that I will never forget. From now for the rest of my life it's become a part of my emotional makeup, a story that I will remember, grieve, and contemplate - a story of an unfair end to a bright and promising life. I'm sure that many of the 22,000 members of the Facebook group will soon move on - by this time next year, they'll remember the story as "oh, that boy that left home over the video game argument and was found dead in the woods". But some, like myself, will not forget the name Brandon Crisp, or the grief of the Crisp family, or the face of the young man that showed so much promise.

Brandon may have passed away alone in the woods in a physical sense, but he was certainly not alone in a spiritual one - thousands upon thousands were hoping and praying for his safe return. Maybe one of the greatest tragedies in a story filled with them is the fact that Brandon died without ever knowing that an overwhelming number of people - family, friends, even strangers like me - cared so much about him.

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