Fonteneaux grew up in Houston nurtured by three sets of parents: Thomas, her aunt; Verona Fonteneaux, her biological mother and Thomas' sister; and her godparents.
"I asked my sister if I could raise Brandy," Thomas said. Thomas wanted a child but had suffered miscarriages, and Verona Fonteneaux had five children and financial problems, and needed help, Thomas said.
Brandy Fonteneaux had a nurturing personality herself, her mother and aunt said. When her track teammates at Texas Southern University grew discouraged, she would say, "Hey, let's just give it our best." As a food service specialist in the Army, she would withhold dessert from fellow soldiers facing a fitness test.
She got a degree in kinesiology from Texas Southern and then joined the Army in 2009 to help pay off college loans. All the while she remained close with her family. "She didn't grow up and get away. She grew up and became closer," Thomas said.
She spoke with her family daily by phone, text or Skype until Saturday, Jan. 7, when no one heard from her. The next day, the family asked Fort Carson officials to check on her, and she was found dead in her room.
Since then, it has been hard for her entire extended family, her mother and aunt said. Their houses are lined with photos of the young woman with her broad, beaming smile, and they feel her absence keenly at family gatherings.
"I have my days," Verona Fonteneaux said. "Some days I'm OK. Sometimes I sit and cry."
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