The grim news about Brandon Buttry filtered to his one-of-a-kind family in Shenandoah, Iowa, Monday.
His parents, Don and Pam Buttry, heard first. They passed the news to Brandon's 13 brothers and sisters, a mix of biological and adopted children who hail from four different countries but for years shared the family's one bathroom.
Aunts and uncles, cousins and friends and the members of Memorial Baptist Church heard the news, too.
Brandon is gone, they told one another. He was killed in Afghanistan.
And then the Buttry family mourned just as they have traveled and learned math and waited in line for the bathroom.
“They really are an amazing family,” said Steve Buttry, Brandon's uncle. “They are devastated. But they have a strong faith and a strong family, and they will get through this.”
Buttry, 19, died in Afghanistan while standing guard atop a watchtower, his uncle said.
The Department of Defense confirmed his death on Tuesday. According to the military, Buttry died in action Monday while serving in the Kandahar province in Afghanistan.
This much is certain: Brandon Buttry will be remembered by one of the largest and most close-knit families in the state of Iowa.
Don and Pam Buttry had three biological children when they saw a TV program about children starving and suffering in Romania at the end of the Cold War.
They tried and failed to adopt from Romania, so instead they adopted five children from South Korea, one child from Vietnam, one from Guatemala, three from Alabama. And Brandon, from Iowa.
There are 14 children in all, ranging in age from 36 to 11.
Until the family added onto its house, Brandon shared a bedroom with several other children, his uncle said.
And until the family added its second bathroom, Brandon shared it with every other member of the household.
The family trekked cross-country together several times, piling off a tan passenger van in matching orange T-shirts to cheer on older sisters Missy and Mandy at their cross-country and track meets. Missy Buttry became one of the best long-distance runners in the country in the early 2000s, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials and finishing eighth in the trial's 5000-meter event in 2004. She's married to Andrew Rock, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.
During the week, Don and Pam Buttry home-school the adopted children, teaching reading and math to a cross-cultural brood that included several children with physical and mental disabilities.
On Sundays, any child living in the Buttry household or visiting home attends services at Memorial Baptist Church, filling up a section of back pews so regularly that Pastor Mike Brogan gave it a name.
The Buttry Corner.
After church, Don, a former employee of Eaton Corp., often plants himself in front of the TV and cheers on the Minnesota Vikings. So do most of his children.
But not Brandon. He rooted on the Philadelphia Eagles and trash-talked his siblings.
“He had a bit of a contrarian streak in him,” said Steve Buttry, a former World-Herald reporter who is now an editor for Digital First Media. “A twinkle in his eye. A mischievous smile on his face.”
Brandon Buttry had wanted to join the U.S. Army since childhood and discussed his decision several times with Brogan in the months before he left for boot camp in January.
“He just wanted to serve his country and make a difference,” Brogan said Monday. “He felt like joining would allow him to contribute something to America. It's probably about that simple and that complicated.”
Buttry is the 157th service member with ties to Nebraska or Iowa who has died in the post-Sept. 11 wars, according to newspaper records.
He is only the second Nebraskan or western Iowan to die in Afghanistan this year. That's down markedly from 2011, when the Iowa and Nebraska National Guards sent thousands of soldiers to that country.
But that relative lack of violence is little solace to the Buttry family.
Since Pfc. Brandon Buttry shipped to Afghanistan in August, his mother, Pam, has sent out email messages with photos and updates she's gleaned from phone calls. She has always included a reminder asking his friends and family to pray for his safety.
“I think she was always worried about getting the news that we got today,” Steve Buttry said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1064, firstname.lastname@example.org