Faced with death, they learned to live
On the afternoon of March 26, 2017, Brandy and Isaiah Rusher were sharing conversation and laughs with their best friend, their brother and another friend. They sat on the stairwell leading to Brandy's apartment, while her baby, Cohen, napped inside.
Another resident took issue with the group blocking the stairwell and began shooting with an AR-15. Brandy was shot twice, Isaiah six times; their brother, Gary Wayne, and best friend, Christopher, both died at the scene. "It was our mother's worst nightmare," Brandy remembers. "Three of her six children were involved in the same tragedy. She handled it with strength and grace."
Even with shots that damaged her shoulder, hip and pelvis, Brandy's first concern was her sleeping baby. "I had to stay calm and get help for Cohen." She remained conscious until she arrived at Ben Taub Hospital. Once there, she was immediately taken to surgery to control internal bleeding in her pelvis. She was in the intensive care unit three days and in the hospital eight.
She left the hospital with a walker, unable to lift her left shoulder. Doctors told her to expect a year of recovery. She gave herself six months. "I pushed myself to care for Cohen. He was my therapy." But her recovery from grief continues.
"I didn't find out until my second day in the hospital that my brother and best friend had died," she said. "Thankfully, Isaiah was still alive."
Isaiah had been taken to another hospital. He was told in the ambulance his brother was dead on arrival. "I had to ask what that meant," he says. "I'm blessed. Doctors told me I had very little blood left in my body. There is a God or otherwise I wouldn't be here."
Three of his fingers were shot off; doctors reconnected two. His femoral artery and left hip were damaged. A bullet grazed his chest because he turned at the right time. Following his emergency care, Isaiah arrived at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital where surgeons fixed his femoral bleeding. The surgery proved life saving.
Life changed in a moment for the brother and sister; they consider themselves fortunate.
Brandy, who is 5'9", is a natural model. She was part of TV's America's Next Top Model Season 4. Today, she designs clothing in her spare time and often wears her own fashions. Professionally, she styles hair, though pain in her shoulder and hip makes it difficult to stand for long periods. Doctors tell her she will deal with discomfort for the rest of her life.
Most importantly, she gave birth to a second son. Named Christopher Wayne, for the best friend and brother she lost that fateful day.
At 6'10", Isaiah planned a career in the NBA. He played college basketball at the University of New Mexico and had plans to meet with the Houston Rockets on the day he was shot. Yet, he believes he's blessed.
"I see life for what it is — beautiful," he says. "In the worst situation, in chaos, you can see beauty. When you're at your weakest point, you find strength. In this, I found life."
Always an intellectual, he constantly reads about religion, government, politics and cultures. Music is a big part of his life. He lives for his nieces and nephews. He spends a lot of time with Brandy's two boys. Gary Wayne is survived by six children, one who was born after his death.
The siblings are grateful for Harris Health System. Isaiah says he received excellent care at LBJ. When Brandy woke up at Ben Taub, she felt safe. "I didn't want to be at any other hospital. The doctors and nurses are well-rounded people who care. They were determined to help me live."
She's especially grateful for nurse Patrick. "He cared about me as a patient, but he also cared about me as a person. He helped me learn to live with my injuries."
Not surprisingly, both of them have strong feelings about guns. Isaiah says, "When people keep guns for protection, their hands itch to use them." Brandy continues, "It doesn't take a gun to make a point. If we would put them down, talk, be human, the world would be a better place."
Even so, Isaiah is clear: "This shouldn't have happened, but I forgive the people who did it."
From a bad situation, Brandy learned to live with purpose. "I want to be a good woman and a good mother. I want to make every day count. That's what Gary Wayne would want for us."