This story aired on May 26, 2011
When a tornado rolled across Tuscaloosa April 27th, 41 people were killed. Nine were college students. Loryn Brown, 21, died after the house where she lived collapsed on top of her and two friends.
Loryn's father, Shannon Brown, played football at Alabama. He was on the 1992 National Championship team and was captain of the 1995 team. He now's the head football coach at Ardmore High School.
Shannon sat down exclusively with WHNT NEWS 19's Jerry Hayes to talk about what happened on April 27th and what he's doing to make sure his daughter's dream of going to the University of Alabama lives on. It's a story of a father's love.
Shannon was riding out the severe weather on that day with his family at their home in Madison. When the power went out, he had no idea an EF-4 tornado had hit Tuscaloosa. When he started getting calls asking if he’d talked to Loryn, Shannon said, “I'm like, what do you mean have I heard from Loryn? 'Shannon, there's been a massive tornado come through Tuscaloosa and nobody can get up with Loryn.' And as I say that to you right now Jerry, I've got chills all over my body because I didn't know,” Brown said.
That's when he started thinking the worst, hoping for the best and praying the reason he couldn't reach his daughter was because cell phone towers were down.
"Lord, let that be why we can't get ahold of our little girl," Brown said.
Loryn was on the phone with her mother when the storm hit.
"She was on the phone with Ashley, I guess mother's intuition. Ashley just kinda knew and Loryn's last words were 'Mom, I've never been through anything like this, I've never. It's awful. It's terrible. I'm scared to death,' and I think those were her last words she spoke to her mother,” Brown said.
That's when the phone went silent. Shannon finally got in touch with Loryn's landlord, who told him everything was fine. But he had a gut feeling it wasn't, so he asked her to go check on Loryn and call him back. She did about two hours later.
"She couldn't even talk. She didn't know what to say," Brown said. "I knew right then. Your mind just starts, I mean just obviously you just start thinking the worst."
Shannon was riding an emotional roller coaster. Someone had posted online that Loryn was okay. She'd gone to the hospital. So Shannon picked up the phone.
"I'm calling Druid City Hospital. I'm like ma'am, can you please tell me if Loryn Alexandria Brown is at the hospital? The lady told me, sir, there are so many people here right now that have not gotten checked in. I'm not saying that she's not here, but we don't have her on record just yet,” Brown said.
That's when Shannon started praying. His father, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, owns a tree trimming business in Greensboro, half an hour from Tuscaloosa. He was already in the disaster zone with his employees moving utility poles, trees and other debris. They were trying to reach Loryn's house.
Shannon began wondering, “How long can she hang on until they get there. Cause I know my dad, my dad's there. He's getting in there.”
Loryn Brown’s grandfather was on a mission to find her. Fighting back tears, Shannon told me, “My mom told my dad, 'Go get my grandbaby. Go get her.' And that's what he did.”
When Shannon got to Tuscaloosa, police wouldn't immediately let him in the neighborhood. They finally escorted him to what was left of Loryn's house.
"It was the longest walk of my life because I knew," Brown said. "You know, at that point, I'm just trying to get ready to, you know. And when I walked past the ambulance, I saw the two bodies already in the ambulance wrapped up and they hadn't pulled Loryn out yet. It's like she was waiting on me. Daddy, I ain't coming out of here until you get here."
Shannon Brown was about to live the worst moment of his life. The coroner was on the scene and said to Shannon, "Sir, I hate for you to have to do this but we gotta know.” Shannon said, “My dad couldn't positively identify her but I did.” Shannon could no longer hold back the tears. As a father cried for his loss, he said, "I'm telling you, no parent should ever have to do that. I just remember screaming and I wanted to hit something. I wanted to just tear something up but I didn't. I tried to keep my composure."
And he did, long enough to call Loryn's mother Ashley.
"Her husband answered the phone and I said 'Dewayne, she's gone.' And then I called my wife and told her and I got back in my truck and drove back to Madison. I don't even remember it," Brown recalled.
The Bible tells us there is no greater love than to give your life for someone else. Shannon would have done what any other father would have done.
"I would have given my life for my daughter without question," he said.
The former Alabama and NFL player says if the storm had been 100 yards to the left or 100 yards to the right of where Loryn lived, she would still be here.
"I'm not questioning God. I'm not," said Brown. "I know that she's in a better place and I know one day I'm going to get to see her. But by no means was I ready for her to go, not like this."
Loryn Brown may be gone, but she will live on in the hearts of her family including her brothers and sisters. And Shannon is going to make sure her memory lives on at the University of Alabama. She had been accepted to start there in August.
"It's something, Jerry, that she was very passionate about. She wanted to graduate from the University of Alabama where her daddy went to school," Brown said.
That’s why he's establishing a scholarship in Loryn's memory at UA.
"In some small way she's going to be there for many years. And in some ways, that gives me a little bit of comfort knowing that in a small way, one of her dreams has come true," he says.
Through this link, you can make a donation to the Loryn Alexandria Brown Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund.