For teens who imagine themselves invincible, losing Brandon Barmore last week was a devastating and powerful blow.
Two months shy of his 18th birthday, Brandon died March 26 in a hotel swimming lagoon on a Seeds of Learning service trip to Nicaragua.
A dozen Sonoma Valley High School classmates, two Rotary Club members, and trip leaders from the Sonoma-based nonprofit were with Barmore and tried to revive him. He died at an area hospital on Sunday, March 26. His family in Sonoma was informed that day.
Sonoma Valley High School students were on spring break during the service trip, but school is back in session this week. On Wednesday, March 29, grief counselors and six therapy dogs were on campus for students and staff. A short letter from Principal Kathleen Hawing was sent to school families on Wednesday informing them of the tragedy.
Interviews with family, friends and teachers lovingly paint a picture of Brandon as a charismatic young man with a hundred interests and a thousand friends.
In addition to being a captain of the track team, during his four years at SVHS, Brandon ran cross country, played water polo, wrestled, competed on the swim team and skied on the weekends.
In addition to being a counselor at the Sebastiani Theatre summer camps, he was a ropes-course volunteer, helped out with Witchie Poo and worked for the Rhotens, who manage the theater, throughout the school year.
In addition to being a star student in the high school’s culinary elective, Brandon was a passionate home cook who loved to experiment with vegan recipes and a dehydrator to brew his own kombucha.
In addition to captaining the forensics speech team, Brandon also was also involved with both the high school’s Mock Trial team and its Model U.N. club.
He was nominated as Homecoming King last fall, and was elected the high school’s Mr. Dragon in February.
He was also a work in progress. Friends describe him as nerdy but charismatic, hilarious and confident but also humble.
Brandon brought the house down with his antics for the Mr. Dragon competition, dressing up as teacher Dean Knight, rocking “Safety Dance” in a gold lame suit, and underscoring his tremendous school spirit by donning every SVHS T-shirt he had ever owned, all at once.
He was color blind but a snappy dresser who friends, amid giggles, credit with single-handedly bringing short shorts back in style for boys.
“Everything that Brandon did he poured his heart and soul into… and he did a lot,” his mother, Margee Barmore, said when she and husband Phil Barmore spoke this week with the Index-Tribune. “He kept so busy. We keep hearing of more things that he was involved in that we didn’t even know about.”
Friends would catch up with Brandon by giving him a ride the last few blocks to campus in the morning. They laughed that he was always running late, despite only living a five-minute walk from school.
Despite his seeming confidence at SVHS, Brandon was a painfully shy child and so Margee, who teaches kindergarten at the Kenwood School, homeschooled him through third grade. In fourth grade he enrolled at Kenwood Elementary, and later attended Adele Harrison Middle School and then SVHS.
“He really came into his own over the last few years,” said Margee, who credits, in part, a newfound love of performing for Brandon coming out of his shell. Brandon played Danny in “Grease” and took the stage in “Guys and Dolls” in high school.
“He was natural, it was a gift,” she said with a big smile. In the days since his passing, she has taken to watching and rewatching videos of Brandon performing.
But Brandon loved learning perhaps most of all. He loved to read, collected facts, his friends describe him as a walking encyclopedia.
“His friends would jokingly call him, Ted, because he loved Ted Talks so much,” said Margee.
Brandon planned to attend Santa Rose Junior College next year, and to transfer to UC Davis to pursue a career in biological sciences or medicine.
“He loved the Ecology Center and was fascinated by natural sciences,” Margee said. “His room at home is like a laboratory. I was just looking around this morning and I’m talking larvae, silkworms, roaches, grubs and who knows what else.”
For his senior project, Brandon created a bee hive and studied ways to protect pollinators locally.
“He was excited to share what he had learned with the community,” said Margee. “He was always looking for ways to help.”
Brandon wanted to go on a Seeds of Learning from the moment he first learned about the nonprofit. In the months leading up to their departure, he enthusiastically participated in every planning meeting and fundraiser, including a boisterously received walk down the catwalk for a winter SOL fashion show at the Community Center.
The trip that he so looked forward to ended in tragedy, but the Barmores aren’t angry.
“What a cost to us to lose him… but God knows something that we don’t know,” said Margee, and Phil, a pilot for United Airlines, nodded.
“This is us living out Roman 8:28,” said Phil, in reference to the bible passage that reads: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose.”
“We have to look for the good in this even though we are going to miss him terribly,” said Phil.
Margee said they’re seeking comfort in their faith.
“We’re not angry at God or at anyone,” she said. “We’re just sad and confused.”
Brandon is survived by his parents and two siblings, an older brother Ryan, 21, and a younger sister Emily, 13.
A rare plot opened up in Sonoma’s Mountain Cemetery this week and the Barmores decided to bury Brandon there “so that we can all visit him.”
A community celebration of his life will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, at Sonoma Valley High School, and there will also be a private memorial service for family and friends.
“We have been so overwhelmed by the kindness and support of his friends, our friends, the school administration, the people at Seeds of Learning… even people who had never met him,” said Margee, tearing up during a 90-minute interview on Thursday at the I-T offices.
After sharing stories about Brandon, the Barmores were sad and they were proud. They laughed at videos of his antics and smiled lovingly at the hundreds of photos of him on Margee’s phone.
“Tragedy happens to all of us and we have to assume that some good will come of this,” said Margee. “It is just really going to be hard not having him with us. It was a privilege being part of his life.”
Contributions can be made to the Brandon Barmore Memorial Fund at Bank of the West at 201 W. Napa St. Funds raised will help offset memorial expenses and support the local nonprofits that meant so much to Brandon.
Contact Lorna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch Brandon compete for the Mr. Dragon title below:
And watch Brandon in an amazing class project below: