Family, friends work to 'Bring Austin Home'

When Austin Brashears was ready to take off for New Zealand, his mother's boss lent him a small item for his travels: a backpack. The Huntington Beach resident had arranged a semester abroad, and he didn't intend to spend all his time outside class lounging in the dorm.

"He was not going to be laying around playing Xbox," said Debbie Kagawa, chief financial officer of Capital Resources & Insurance, Inc., where Brashears' mother has worked for more than 10 years. "He was going to be out seeing people."

Now Kagawa, who joined so many others in seeing Brashears off, is part of a group working soberly to bring him home.

Brashears, who graduated from Marina High School in 2009, died Saturday along with two others when their minivan rolled over on a New Zealand highway. The Boston University student's family and friends have launched a campaign titled Bring Austin Home to raise the funds to fly his body back to the United States.

Kagawa, who oversees the campaign's PayPal account, said more than $7,000 has come in since she put it online Sunday.

Sage Russo, a high school friend of Brashears, has also started a Facebook page to solicit donations and counted about another $7,000 as of Monday. The link to the PayPal account can be found on the Facebook page.

How much it will cost to transport Brashears' body home, no one seems to know. The family posted an announcement on the Facebook page that any unused funds will go toward setting up a scholarship in their son's memory.

In the meantime, Brashears' loved ones are reeling from the shock of a life ended abruptly — a life that was full of promise, full of plans and, as he made his way through New Zealand's terrain, full of updates.

His Facebook page showed photos of him and his travel companions touring beaches and forests, dining outside their tent and mugging for the camera. Talking to friends via phone and Skype, he shared New Zealand lingo and laid out plans to attend a wedding in Oregon and serve as a resident advisor at the university dorm this fall.

"The memories we've all been sharing are just the most positive memories," Russo said. "Austin was one of the most incredible people I've ever known. He was so passionate about life and his friends and his family, and when he cared about something, he cared with his whole heart."

On the day he died, Kagawa said, Brashears was preparing to fulfill a longtime dream: His minivan was headed to an area where scenes from the "Lord of the Rings" movies had been filmed. Brashears and his friends planned to hike through the region.

Since the PayPal page went up online, Kagawa has fielded donations from places as far-flung as Germany and Singapore. In some cases, she said, the funds came from people who knew Brashears or his family; others simply donated after they read the stories online.

Russo, fighting back tears Monday morning, said she has no doubt the campaign will meet its goal.

"Regardless of how much it's going to cost or how much trouble we have to go through, we're going to bring Austin home," she said. "I'm 100% confident we'll be able to do it."

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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