Why I'll Never Forget Cody Coffman

Glenna Gill

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In November of 2018, twelve people died in Thousand Oaks at the hands of a gunman at Borderline Bar and Grill. It was a country-style bar frequented by young people complete with music and line dancing. It was also just one of many mass shootings that year by a troubled man with a gun.

I still pray for the victims, for the families, and first responders. When I saw Cody’s loved ones speak on the news, it was clear they were still in shock and disbelief over what has happened in their town. All the victims and families deserve support, but one name stood out for me among the rest.

His name was Cody Coffman.

I first heard of Cody when I saw his father, Jason, on the news the morning after the shooting. He was frantic and wanted to get the word out that his son was still missing. He’d tried to reach Cody on his phone, but he said it just rang and rang. Then Jason put out a signal to “ping” his son’s phone, which was confirmed to be still inside the bar and yet not moving.

That’s when I first suspected Cody might be gone, yet his father’s eyes were a mix of wishing and acceptance, hoping against hope that his son somehow made it out of the bar alive. Jason made repeated TV news appearances and searched for Cody that morning and night. The exhaustion was clear on his face as he was being interviewed. I knew he hoped and prayed it was some kind of mistake.

A short time after the interview, Jason’s worst fears were realized. Cody was among the twelve victims shot and killed. Jason gave an interview shortly after that, this grieving father who was incredibly brave and strong in the face of his son’s murder. I sobbed right along with him as he laid his pain bare for the whole country to witness.

As far as I’m concerned, all children are our children, and this is a vulnerable time for them. Can kids still be safe in schools (pandemic aside)? What about malls or restaurants or libraries where kids hang out?

Jason Coffman bravely faced the cameras and spoke the truth.

“He was Cody Coffman,” he said through tears. “He was my first-born son.”

Flashes of memories of my own son went through my mind as I listened. His name is Brandon, and he’s 22 years old. He lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he attends college on a sprawling campus of hundreds of people. He also works at a grocery store part-time and hangs out with his friends at night. In other words, he is at greater risk of being shot just like Cody.

The thought of anything bad happening to Brandon is enough to stop me frozen in my tracks, unable to react. It would be like my soul ripped out of my body and stomped on a million times. Life without my son would be unthinkable, yet it’s what Jason Coffman will face every day because a gunman took his son’s life.

Again, I thought of Brandon and how much he has impacted his young sister’s life and helped guide her through words and actions. I thought about the little baby girl who wouldn’t have a big brother in Cody and would never get the chance to know him. A lone gunman may have shot Cody, but he directly wounded the entire family.

Mr. Coffman’s emotions were so real and raw that I almost felt ashamed of myself for watching. He was every parent who has ever lost a child. He spoke of Cody’s past and the future without him. Mr. Coffman felt sure that Cody likely died trying to get other people away from the killer. That was just the kind of boy he always was.

As it turns out, one of Cody’s friends who was with him that night came forward and said that Cody used his body as a shield to keep her safe when the bullets were firing. He then told her to run and get far away, but he didn’t follow her out of the bar. The young woman said she owes Cody her life.

It scared me to death knowing that my Brandon would have done the exact same thing. He is an Eagle Scout and the person you’d want around most in an emergency. I know he’d make sure everyone was safe before he saved himself. I’m proud he is this kind of boy, yet it makes me so afraid for him that I can barely think about it.

Cody Coffman died a hero. He gave his life to save others. I sometimes think of Jason Coffman when holidays roll around and he doesn’t have his son with him. There’s only so much you can do when all you have are memories to hold.

Cody died because a man with a mental disorder was allowed to keep his gun after cops came to his house for a domestic incident. I certainly don’t have all the answers when it comes to gun safety, but as parents and human beings, we need to find ways to make the violence stop. If not, we’ll continue to see parents mourning their children with cameras in their faces to capture their grief.

By all accounts, Cody seemed like a wonderful boy. The images of his father crying and begging on TV will never leave my mind. It was the reality of a newly broken man, not just a number or statistic. We can honor Cody now by making a difference in our own families and, in turn, the world.

The next time I have the urge to hide my Brandon away in a blanket fort forever to keep him safe, I’ll remember who he is and what he sees as his purpose in life. He is such a smart, brave kid who deserves everything the world has to offer. I just wish Cody had the same chance.

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I write about lifestyle issues, including such topics as parenting, mental illness, family, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, and inspiration. My hope is that these stories will help people suffering from similar issues by reading about other's experiences.

West Palm Beach, FL
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