Over the course of the past three months, Auburn and the surrounding areas have been tested in profound ways.
It began on March 3, with the treacherous tornadoes that ravaged the Beauregard community, taking 23 precious lives and destroying homes all along its path. While the cleanup continued in this area, as it will for some time to come, we suffered the first ever loss of a police officer killed in the line of duty on the Auburn police force on the evening of May 19.
Less than a week after this tragedy came the news late Saturday night that Rod Bramblett, the beloved “Voice of Auburn,” had been silenced, along with his wife Paula, in a horrific automobile accident here in town early Saturday evening, less than 48 hours after the emotional farewell to Officer Buechner.
All 26 of these Lee Countians were taken suddenly, under extraordinary circumstances which no one could have foreseen even an hour before their deaths. Having them occur in three separate incidents within a 12-week period has left many reeling and questioning. None of us holds the answer as we each try to wrap our heads and hearts around what seems to be a streak of unbearable sorrow.
Last night, as I was thinking about the changes in the lives of those most directly affected by these events — the families who have been left behind to pick up the pieces and move forward — I took comfort in the way the community has responded to each of these tragedies.
After the tornadoes hit Beauregard, every agency in Lee County and many from around the state and throughout the country began working immediately to do whatever they could to help those who were homeless. Auburn University President Steven Leath gave all Auburn University employees a full day of paid leave to assist the clean-up efforts in Beauregard, and many AU athletes and coaches were there the following week to offer assistance and comfort. The Poach Creek Indians paid for all of the funerals as hundreds of thousands of dollars were sent in and volunteers from our county as well as from states far from us came to Lee County to see what they could do to help. This continues, almost three months after it began.
Last week, we were all focused on Officer William Buechner and his young family. A GoFundMe page was started immediately. A $10,000 goal was set and over $55,000 was raised in seven days — over five times the anticipated amount. On Friday, hundreds of folks lined the streets of Auburn, waiting well over an hour in nearly 100-degree heat to pay respects as the impressive motorcade passed by en route from the Auburn Arena, where his service had been held, to Town Creek Cemetery, where he was laid to rest.
Then on Sunday, maybe 12 hours or so after we learned that Rod and Paula Bramblett had been killed, another GoFundMe was established to help their children. In less than 48 hours, nearly $200,000 has been raised, with many donations coming from Auburn fans and others, like Apple CEO Tim Cook, throughout the country. It’s heartwarming to read the comments that people have left on both of these GoFundMe pages as people who likely never met either of these victims express their love and care for two men who touched the Auburn community in very different ways.
My prayer is that all of those who have been touched by these tragedies, either directly or indirectly, will find comfort. We do not have the wisdom to understand why these things happen — and, sadly, will continue to happen — but we can gain support from one another and we can observe that, as Anne Frank said, “...in spite of everything, people are truly good at heart.” We have seen this in action over and over here in Lee County in the last three months, and I feel certain that it will continue. When help is needed, we will respond.
We are family. We will get through our challenges together and become stronger. We are Auburn.