In a sense, Brennan Stewart was a fifth-generation Moab kid. His folks were raised here and graduated from Grand County schools. I was a classmate of his aunt and uncle — Moab sweethearts who married then left town decades ago when the local economy dwindled. With their extended families they worked to build custom homes in the burgeoning Las Vegas. Brennan worked in that trade along with his parents, grandparents, and aunt and uncle. Although Brennan was neither born nor raised here, his family’s ties rooted him to our desert through innumerable visits, a special cabin, family history and dozens of cousins.
The Las Vegas Review-Herald, which has used more gallons of ink on the Mandalay Bay tragedy than any newspaper ever fears to cover, described the 30-year-old guitar player as “part of a big, boisterous family that loved to spend time together.” He was passionate about country music and rarely missed the concerts that frequented his hometown of Las Vegas. He was attending the Route 91 concert with other family members when gunfire broke out, and died while helping others to safety and while trying to shield his girlfriend — who survived the ordeal — from being shot. He put others before himself, his family said, even up until the moment he lost his life.
Long before his death, Brennan described himself on social media as “nothing too fancy,” and a person who loved hunting, singing and song-writing. Music was his passion. “My family is everything to me; we do everything together from work to play … If country music ever disappeared I feel like I would too. After a long day of work I go pick up the ‘old geetar’ and strum my stresses away!”
He was known to say, “When words fail, music prevails.”
I never knew Brennan, but he was separated from me and many other Moab folks by only one or two degrees if you calculate his family connections. When we learned of the Las Vegas massacre, as we’ve done with other large tragedies, we’ve often feared that someone we care for may have been in the path of danger. We wonder if we have connections, and if we find that we do, the pain hits close to home. The ties that bind hearts that are affected by tragedies are powerful. The oft-held theory that we are all connected by at least six degrees implies that all living things in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other. Therefore, a chain of “a friend of a friend” statement can be made to connect any two people on the globe within a maximum of six steps.
Brennan recorded a number of songs prior to his death. Thankfully, his image and voice live on in the videos he recorded, including one song called “You Should Be Here.” In that recording you can see him strumming and singing his heart out to the ever-so-poignant words, “They say now you’re in a better place, and I would be too if I could see your face. You should be here…”
The network of life whose foundation originates in a small town is big. The lines of friendships and blood family get blurred. And in the case of someone who died in vain — like Brennan — more relationships are built through shared sadness, shock and sympathy. If you grew up in Moab, or have spent much time here, you probably know some members of his large extended family. Untold scores of people are learning what kind of person Brennan was, through family statements and his country music pieces that are going viral on the Internet. If he was able to see this world through the veil of death, he would indeed see that the words of the song are true where the lines go, “Got the whole crew here, I ain’t seen some of them in forever. It’s one of those ‘never-forget-it, better-stop-and-take-it-in’ kinda scenes … It’s one of those moments that’s got your name written all over it.”
The mysteries of the Las Vegas tragedies may never be known. But the testament of Brennan’s life, and the scores of others who also died, will be remembered by many, whether or not they are six degrees or fewer from knowing who they were.