"There is a pain that no family should have to endure, but unfortunately we did. We lost one of our own, and we lost him way too soon."
PANAMA CITY BEACH — A year after a sand tunnel collapsed and killed an Oklahoma teenager, his family and friends have returned to Panama City Beach to honor his life and memory, according to a family friend.
Travor Brown would have turned 18 years old this past May. His life was tragically cut short after a sand tunnel at St. Andrews State Park collapsed with him inside. Brown was removed from life support on June 10, 2016, after efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
As the one-year anniversary of the tragic event took place Saturday, friends and family returned to the area to honor Brown’s life, according to family friend Jen Grove Craig. She said the community response after the tragedy was moving.
“So many residents and visitors there at that time reached out with kindness and prayers and that was very appreciated,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Please send prayers or good vibes as Travor would say, to his family and friends near and far who are missing this remarkable young man.”
Brown’s family could not be reached for comment Saturday, but other friends shared their thoughts online.
“One year ago today, I felt what it is like to lose a part of yourself,” Austin Michael Wyatt wrote on Facebook, accompanied by photos of him with Brown. “My brother was my best friend. There has never been one person that understood me like he did. He was my partner in crime.
“Words fail to bring light to the deep and unending ache that is left behind after your heart is completely and irrevocably broken. There is a pain that reaches farther than tears and loneliness. There is a pain that no family should have to endure, but unfortunately we did. We lost one of our own, and we lost him way too soon. We all lost a part of ourselves.
“However, I’m thankful for my family and their ability to love unconditionally in the middle of a storm. There is no recovery with something like this, but we made sure we got as close as we could.
“I’m also thankful for my friends, old and new, for giving me a reason to never lose sight of how beautiful this life is,” Wyatt continued, “and how much is still out there to love and experience. My friends inspire me every day to keep looking forward and cherish the little things in life.
“I am who I am today because of Travor Brown. He taught me how to love life and live authentically. And for that I will be forever grateful. I will never stop missing you, brother.”
The area where the initial incident took place in St. Andrew State Park was calm Saturday as beachgoers played in the water and sand. A year earlier, the scene was much different. Hundred of onlookers on June 8, 2016, watched dozens of law enforcement, firefighters and EMS frantically dug in a sand bank for hours under the midday sun — unsure how many people had been in the tunnel at the time. Brown had been rushed to a hospital about 3:30 p.m. that day and initially was listed in critical condition.
Witnesses said they saw a group of teenagers kicking the sides of a steep sand bank, making cavities. Fire Rescue Capt. Gabriel Moschella, one of the emergency workers on the scene, told The News Herald the boys had dug three holes, spanning about 20 feet, horizontally into the dune wall. Each hole was about 4 feet deep, Moschella said, and bystanders believe Brown was trying to connect the holes to each other, to form a rough “W” shape.
Brown had dug into the sand until nothing more than his feet were sticking out when the mound collapsed on top of the teen, witnesses said.
His family rushed from Oklahoma after receiving news of the accident, but days later they made the decision to remove Brown from life support.
Numerous people responded with shock and grief at hearing about Brown, who had aspired to be a model after he graduated high school. Strangers in the community donated to a fund that would go toward his grieving family, and several peers shared stories of his charming, lighthearted personality. Grove said the impact Brown made in his brief life still is felt by many.
“Travor, you are never far from our thoughts,” she wrote. “You are loved and missed very much.”