It was a sunny afternoon when Brenna Morgart, 18, set out for a run along the roads near her home in northern Shawnee County. She never returned. Brenna was reported missing at 3:30 p.m. May 25, 2012. A search led Shawnee Co. sheriff’s deputies to her glasses along northwest Jennings road, later her body was found in a field three miles away.
Dustin J. Leftwich was arrested, charged with, and pleaded guilty to hitting Brenna with his car, kidnapping her, and drowning her in a stream after he tried to rape her.
In February, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. During Leftwich’s sentencing hearing Dennis declared he and his wife had forgiven Leftwich.
On the anniversary of their daughter’s death, Dennis and Barb Morgart share their story of agony, grief, joy, and faith for the first time. They say they live each day with a belief that they’ll see their daughter again.
“There was never any question that she went to heaven, never any question of where she is today, where she’ll be for eternity,” said Barb Morgart. She says a particular set of family photos will always be special to her, because they almost didn’t happen.
She almost called to cancel. Brenna, a busy girl, was running late for a family portrait session in Gage Park. Barb had the phone book out and was about to call the photographer to cancel her family’s session. She put down the phone when Brenna burst in the door. The portrait session was on May 24, the day before Brenna died.
“I don’t think there’s been a day yet where I haven’t woke up thinking about the fact that Brenna’s not with us,” her father Dennis said of his life without Brenna. On the morning of February 15, 2013, Dennis stood up in front of a courtroom during Leftwich’s sentencing hearing, and offered a message of forgiveness to the man who killed Brenna.
“There’s no sin that cant be forgiven and we wanted him to know that,” Dennis said. “We wanted to let some light reflect off of us into what appears to be a very dark life.”
“I wish that somebody had changed his heart, had a chance to change his heart before he was able to do what he did to our daughter,” Barb explained.
Acceptance never came easy, and Dennis says it may never be, “We’re looking forward to the day when we can look back on these memories with fond feelings, fondness, and not so much pain. But that’s not where we’re at yet. We can still see pictures of her or her personal effects around the house that- it can drive us right to tears.”
One photo of Brenna stands out. On a fall evening at Seaman High School, Brenna stood in the middle of the football field at the homecoming game after she had been crowned homecoming queen.
“She was radiant, she was walking a foot off the ground,” Dennis said. “It was a great day.”
“Those pictures we have of Homecoming, are just priceless, because it just shows her radiance and her smile,” Barb said.
Now the Morgarts hope to let the light of their daughter’s life shine through them, they say.
“We’re hoping to get there someday, to return the favor that’s been such a tremendous source of blessing for us,” Dennis said of the outpouring of support the family received after Brenna’s death.
As for their personal and joint anguish at the loss of a child, Dennis and Barb said grief sharing sessions at a Topeka church has taught them a valuable lesson Dennis said, “That you can survive because i’ll tell you, there’s times when you’re not sure you will.” Barb added, “Or you don’t want to.”
Now they live with an odd sort of joy, unfathomable sorrow and despair will give way to elation, believing Brenna is in a better place, Barb explained, “We have the heartache, we have the hole in our heart, we miss her everyday, love her tremendously and miss her everyday.”