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Parents struggle with loss of 'child prodigy'

by Joe Duggan, Lincoln Journal Star
Originally published March 18, 2005

Brandenn Bremmer, a 14-year-old Venango boy who was gifted in music and graduated high school only four years ago, apparently has committed suicide. Brandenn was found Tuesday in his home with a gunshot wound to the head, leaving his parents trying to cope with unimaginable loss.

Past stories about Brandenn: March 8, 1998 | May 27, 2001 | June 16, 2001

The mother can still feel her son's heartbeat. Every day she placed her hand on his chest, feeling the internal rhythm of the boy she brought into the world.

The boy with the blue eyes and brown curls who could read when he was 2. The prodigy with the super genius IQ who graduated from a correspondence high school program at the age of 10. The young man who loved to compose, record and perform piano music. Now she places her hand on a picture of Brandenn Bremmer because that's all she has at the moment.

On Tuesday, Patti and Martin Bremmer leave their 14-year-old son at their home near Venango while they shop for groceries. When they return, Patti finds him inside with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His heart still beats.

First to a nearby hospital, then by helicopter to Denver where a neurosurgeon examines him. There's too much damage. Nothing can be done.

So on Friday, back on their farmstead in Nebraska, a mother and father try to cope with unimaginable loss.

They found out he was highly intelligent when he was just a toddler. Patti would say a letter and Brandenn would retrieve it from a pile of magnetic letters on the floor. He wasn't even 2 at the time.

They home schooled him, teaching reading, writing and math in a curriculum that blended books, a home computer and backyard science.

"We learned so much more from him than he did from us," Patti says.

They felt a tremendous responsibility to stimulate their son's mind, but their goal wasn't to raise a savant. So they allowed lots of time for play, bike rides, rounds of golf and field trips. They wanted to raise a good human being.

In that, they more than succeeded, says Mary Smith of Ogallala. She considers Brandenn a part of her family, a son to go along with her four daughters. She describes him, she says, like anyone who knew Brandenn would describe him.

"In my entire life I can honestly say I have never met such a peaceful and giving person," she says. "And it was totally sincere. I've never met anybody who gave so much of himself."

Her 13-year-old daughter, Sydney, developed a special bond with the young man.

"Brandenn was the nicest, most caring, loving, sensitive, wonderful person I've ever known. He was like an angel," Sydney Smith says.

In 2001, Brandenn graduated from the University of Nebraska's Independent Study High School. He completed the final two-year's worth of course work in seven months and became the youngest graduate in the program's history.

After he got his diploma, he started taking independent study music classes at Colorado State University to pursue an interest that began when he started playing piano at age 3. Typically he enrolled in one class per semester to limit the number of 180-mile commutes to and from Fort Collins. Brandenn most enjoyed studying music improvisation.

In January, he enrolled in a biology course at Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte. His goal was to eventually take undergraduate courses at UNL and then study medicine.

Throughout his nontraditional education, Brandenn's interest in music never waned. Last year, his parents encouraged him to record some of his piano compositions and the result was a compact disc Brandenn titled "Elements."

Copies of the CD are everywhere, his mother says, across the United States, Japan, Hong Kong. Cancer patients use it for therapy. Nuns meditate to his melodies.

"We told him, ‘Gosh Brandenn, you're immortal now,'" Martin says. "‘You're going to live on because your music captures a little bit of your life.'"

On Tuesday, Brandenn finishes recording his second CD. The three of them listen to it over a lunch of barbecued chicken and homemade bread sticks.

Brandenn walks up the stairs to his room, where he attends to video games he had sold on eBay. After a while, Martin goes to his room to discuss artwork for the new CD cover. Then the parents leave to shop for groceries.

If he was thinking about suicide, he gave no hints. No depression. His appetite was normal. He hadn't been giving away valued possessions.

He left no note.

"That troubled us so," Martin says. "Just not knowing why he made the decision to do that was torture in itself."

But that despair didn't last long, Patti and Martin say. Their son was very spiritual, not in a church-going sense, but they believe he decided to leave this world so he could help all those he loves in some supernatural way.

They feel his presence, the same one he exuded when he was alive.

"We do know — we don't have to wonder or hope — we do know he's with us," his father says.

And even as they reeled in the shock of losing their only son, they saw a way he could help others. After the doctors said nothing could be done, they allowed his organs to be harvested for patients needing transplants.

Brandenn's liver now is in a 22-month-old child who had just days to live without it. Two different people received his kidneys. Perhaps as many as 50 people will benefit from his organs and tissues.

Especially the 11-year-old boy who got his heart.

Knowing her son's heart is still beating gives a grieving mother comfort that no one can know.

"I'm anxious to put my hand on the chest of that 11-year-old boy."

Reach Joe Duggan at 473-7239 or jduggan@journalstar.com.

Copyright 2001, Lincoln Journal Star. All rights reserved.

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