TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - The last five years have been anything but easy for Shannon Brown. The former Alabama football standout lost his daughter, Loryn Brown, in the EF-4 tornado that struck Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011.
It's still very apparent the heartache he feels when talking about that day. He said it looked like a bomb went off where Loryn lived.
Still, through all of his pain, he is moving forward. As he says, that's what Loryn would have wanted.
Amazing young woman
"What an angel she really was. You know how she cared for people and helped people out," Brown said.
Loryn was just starting the prime of her life. Finishing her time at Shelton State Community College, and set to enroll at the University of Alabama in the coming fall, she planned to pursue her dream of becoming a sports broadcaster.
"She wanted to graduate from the University of Alabama, just like her dad did," Brown said.
Shannon and his ex-wife Ashley Mims had Loryn when they were still in high school.
A standout football player, Shannon earned a scholarship from the University of Alabama and played on the 1992 national championship team. A few years later he became a team captain. Loryn was always by his side.
"Very loving, compassionate, really wanted approval," Brown said. "You know, Loryn definitely was a unique young lady."
A parent's worst nightmare
April 27, 2011 was the day that Shannon Brown's life changed forever.
"It never dawned on me what was going on in Tuscaloosa. Because I'm just focused in on the tornadoes that's hitting up here in north Alabama. Because they were everywhere," he said.
"You know I get the phone call, 'Shannon have you heard from Loryn?' Like what do you mean? He's [a friend] like, 'Man, there has been a major tornado that has come through and hit Tuscaloosa. I mean it's bad,'" he said.
The mile-wide tornado leveled homes and buildings and snapped trees like they were twigs.
It was bad, and for Shannon it was about to get a million times worse.
"That's when the worst nightmare of any parent came true to where, here I am having to identify my daughter's body," he said.
Loryn, along with one of her roommates, and a close friend, were in the home she was renting. It took a direct hit. There were no survivors.
"She was the last one to come out, and it was a little bit after midnight. And it was almost like I'm not coming out till my dad gets here. And sure enough...I was," Brown said, fighting back tears. "You know, emotions are still pretty strong."
Letting go of the bitterness
"You know, definitely at peace. But I don't think it gets easier. I think with each passing day. No one can tell you how to mourn, how I should be going through this," Brown said.
For a long time, Brown's way of dealing with the pain was asking "Why." Why Loryn? Why me?
Then one Sunday, that all changed.
"I'll never forget, you know, my wife Michelle says well, you need to tell the kids why you're not going to church today. I said I've already told them; you know this ain't a happy place for dad. But you know here I am, the man of the house and I need to lead by example," Brown said.
"So I went to church that day and I promise you, Michelle had to have called my preacher. Cause he was preaching directly at me, towards bitterness.
That, Brown said, was a turning point in his faith and in his life.
"I had to get rid of the bitterness because me being mad at God, I can be mad at him all I want to, but what's really happening here is I'm hurting those around me. And I needed to say OK, we're going to get out of this rut," he said.
Obviously, a lot has changed for Shannon since Loryn's passing. The once high school football coach now spends his days working as an assistant principal at Huntsville High School.
He says thinking about that awful day can still feel like an open wound. But if there is anything he has learned, it's to focus on loved ones, and live his life in honor of Loryn's.
"And not to be sad, but be happy. Because that's how she was. If she was ever unhappy, you didn't know it," Brown said. "You know like Loryn always says, it's not the years in your life, it's the life in your years."
Two scholarships have been established in Loryn's name. One has already matured and students have already graduated because of it.
All donations should be made to University of Alabama noted for the Loryn "Lo" Brown Memorial Scholarship.