Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
News on Sunday of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash, and that of Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, took Albuquerque’s Trish Porter Topmiller back to the worst day of her life.
She has been where Vanessa Bryant is today – having to deal with the sudden death of a husband and a child while simultaneously trying to comfort and protect her surviving children.
On July 26, 2012, Pat Porter’s private plane crashed upon takeoff in Sedona, Arizona. Porter, 53, his and Trish’s 15-year-old son Connor and his friend Connor Mantsch, 14, were killed.
That suddenly, it was left to Trish and her daughter Shannon, then 11, to somehow move on with their lives.
Now, that’s what faces Vanessa Bryant and her three daughters.
“I feel like in some sense I know what (the Bryants) have to face going forward,” Porter Topmiller said in a phone interview, “and that I can offer hope, because there is hope for the future. But right now it’s just so devastating for them.”
Pat Porter was by no means the worldwide celebrity that was Kobe Bryant. Yet, because of his status as a two-time Olympic distance runner and eight-time national cross-country champion, news of his death made the news wires.
As is often the case with U.S. track-and-field stars, Porter during his career might have been better known in other parts of the world – where the sport is better appreciated – than in the States. Porter Topmiller is herself an Olympic high jumper; she and Porter met while training for the Seoul Summer Games in 1988.
“Pat and Connor’s death was national and international news,” Porter Topmiller said.
In Albuquerque, Pat Porter was well known as a successful mortgage specialist. Trish Porter was a record-breaking Masters high jumper and volunteer high-jump coach. Their children were precocious athletes – Connor a fencer, Shannon a figure skater.
Thus, the day after her husband and son’s death, she and Shannon stood before the Albuquerque media at a news conference on the Albuquerque Academy track.
“I’m going to miss dearly this other half of my family,” she said that afternoon, tears falling. “They were both very special and loved by a lot of people.”
Vanessa Bryant has not appeared publicly, but did issue a statement on Wednesday.
“My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time,” her statement read. “Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them.”
In the hours following the deaths of Kobe, Gianna and seven others on Sunday, a flurry of often inaccurate reports followed. Though the details of the tragedy eventually were sorted out, inaccuracies and speculation persist.
On Friday, a Bryant family representative beseeched the media and public to desist with “unnamed sources and blind quotes,” that are adding to the sorrow of a distraught mother and her three daughters.
Porter Topmiller feels their pain.
In deciding to hold a news conference a days after her own tragedy, her purpose had been twofold: to pay tribute to her fallen husband and son, and to put to rest media inquiries and reports – not all of them accurate.
Shannon, she said, had awakened to her clock radio the morning after Pat and Connor’s death.
“She came down the stairs and looked at me and had this terrible look on her face,” Porter Topmiller said. “She said, ‘Mom, my alarm radio went off and I heard them say that Pat Porter and his two children had died.’
“So that was when I said, OK, I need to do a press conference.”
For Shannon, in the days after the death of Pat and Connor, Porter Topmiller said she strived to keep her daughter’s life as normal as possible under those terrible circumstances.
Shannon was scheduled to attend a camp with Connor that summer, just before the start of school. She went to the camp as scheduled.
“Kids that age, they just want to be normal,” Porter Topmiller said. “They want their life back.”
Porter Topmiller, a Christian author, said her religious beliefs served as an anchor in rebuilding her and her daughter’s lives. She was pleased to learn that the Bryants regularly attended church.
“What really got me through the tragedy was trusting in God, even though it hurt and it was hard and it was difficult,” Porter Topmiller said. “… I’m on my knees in tears but just kind of clinging to Him, knowing He was there and knowing that He still had a plan for my life.
“And He still has a plan for (Vanessa’s) life and all of her children.”