By Brooke Bellah
On Sept. 5, 1999, on the southern edge of Fort Worth, Texas, a lonely and confused man walked into Wedgwood Baptist Church and killed seven people in the middle of a youth rally. One of his victims wasSydney Browning, 36, a dedicated teacher and children’s choir director — and a graduate of Grand Canyon University.
Just a few days later, and more than 1,000 miles away, 62 students were promised full-ride scholarships to GCU, with the understanding that they must graduate from high school and be accepted to the University. The scholarships were awarded in honor of Browning, who had dedicated her life to educating underprivileged students.
Eleven years later, GCU is making good on its promise. Fifteen of “Sydney’s Kids” are now starting their freshman year at the University. On the evening of Sept. 7, a private dinner was held on campus for the freshmen and their families.
Also in attendance were Browning’s parents, her sister and her brother-in-law, as well as John Faherty, the Arizona Republic reporter who spent eight months reporting and writing the “Sydney Kids” story, which was published by the newspaper last spring.
After dinner, some of the guests shared stories about Sydney Browning, whose tragic death had brought together such an improbable group of people. Everyone at the dinner had been touched by the life of this noble woman, who was described as “someone who stood out” and had “a passion for helping people.”
But the most touching part of the dinner came when Browning’s family spoke.
Her mother, Diana, talked of the daughter who was taken from her too early.
“She would be 47 years old now, but she’ll always be a kid to me. I think about her every day,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Sydney’s father, Don, also became emotional after he was asked by one of the students to describe his daughter. He spoke about Sydney’s passion for her students and her desire to serve the Lord. Addressing the students, he made a promise to be in the audience on the day of their graduation.
The last family member to speak was Sydney’s sister, Shannon. She rejected the idea that her sister would be alive if only she had not been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I like to think that all of you were in the right place at the right time,” she said to the students.
The family then was presented with a framed reprint of the story written by Faherty, which the Republic published on its front page on Sunday, May 16.
The evening ended with the students receiving plaques printed with their names, along with the phrase: “What a man intended for evil, God intended for good.”
Eleven years ago, one man walked into a church with the intention of taking away lives. But through this tragedy, 15 young adults have been given a chance to begin theirs.
Email Brooke Bellah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography by Michael Ging.