BILLINGS — The darkest moment, Kyra Brockhausen remembers, also led to her brightest.
On a Friday night late in her sophomore year at Billings Skyview High School, Kyra plopped disconsolately on a love seat in her family home in the Heights, a picture window illuminating Billings’ airport in the distance. Though her parents, Kurt and Marianne, had an inkling something was troubling her — the increasingly frequent sobbing was just one clue — she had yet to reveal to them she had no friends, or that girls routinely sent her Snapchats with vulgar language, suggesting she kill herself. She didn't tell them she routinely and tearfully ate alone in her car in the Skyview parking lot because of the cyberbullying. She didn't tell them she felt nauseated, and her heart raced every time she approached the school’s doors.
The accomplished golfer, trumpet player, and honor student always internalized how ostracized she felt in part because she struggled to understand it herself.
“I was," she says now, "in a pretty dark place.”
On that Friday in March 2018, Marianne wondered aloud why her daughter wasn’t out with friends — again. After a vague answer, Marianne asked Kyra why she was so upset that her dad turned down a job he’d been offered in Bozeman.
That's when her emotional levees breached.
“I just broke down and spilled everything,” Kyra (pronounced KEER-ruh) recalls. “I just went off. I think they were a little shocked.”
Their youngest daughter's stunning revelations swung Kurt and Marianne into action. After bumping into a family friend and Billings Central alum at a Chinese restaurant, within days Kyra had landed at the private Catholic school, where 19 months later she thrives academically, is president of the band and, most importantly, has built more friendships than she can count.
A golfer since age 3, she also is excelling on the links. A week after winning the Eastern A divisional in a playoff, she’ll be among the favorites Thursday and Friday at the Class A tournament in Laurel.
“If she plays her best, she can play with anybody in Class A,” Central golf coach Mark Hutchinson said.
And Kyra — announced Wednesday as Simply Family magazine's "2019 Simply Amazing Teen" — is using the moment as a platform.
She could’ve made golf her entire focus this week, further blossomed during the remainder of her senior year at Central, continued to volunteer at St. Vincent Healthcare, and moved on to pursuing a music education degree in college, rendering her time at Skyview a black hole in her memory. Instead, she is opting to take public her story of bullying, rejection, and depression, she says, not to castigate Skyview but to provide hope and guidance for others in similarly dark places.
Indeed, while incredulous that trained teachers and administrators at Skyview could miss obvious signs, the Brockhausens stop short of blaming the school because Kyra never approached a teacher, counselor or her golf coach, Kurt Wohler, about her despair.
“Honestly, I just want to show people how much better it can get, even with the setbacks you might have to go through in telling someone,” she said. “I got pretty low. (Suicide) definitely crossed my mind, but I didn’t want it to come to that, and I knew my life was worth something, so that’s when I finally decided to come to my parents and make a big deal about it. Because that is when it’s a big deal.
"If I’m having those thoughts, it’s a big deal.”
'Didn't fit in'
The Brockhausens moved to Billings from Great Falls when Kyra was in third grade, but it wasn’t until seventh grade at Castle Rock Middle School, she said, when she began sensing she “didn’t fit in.” Cliques had been established, and some of her few friends from Eagle Cliffs Elementary School had transferred to St. Francis, the middle school feeding Central.
As an eighth-grader, Kyra visited a counselor at Castle Rock to create a "start plan" for making friends. Soon after, a handful of girls confronted her on the playground.
“They kind of came up to me and said, ‘We heard you think we’re not treating you very well’,” Kyra recalled. “I felt so humiliated. I was like, ‘I can never do this again.’”
She now surmises that she struggled to make friends in part because her passions — band, golf, speech/debate, academics — didn’t align with the interests of most girls at Castle Rock and Skyview. She would occasionally invite girls to her home, but it typically felt "awkward," she said, and the invitations rarely were reciprocated.
For Kyra, the growing social distance was akin to death by a thousand cuts.
“It wasn’t one of those things that was overnight,” she said. “I didn’t realize I didn’t have a circle of friends or people I could confide in until halfway through my freshman year, when I was like, ‘Wait, people do stuff on the weekends with each other?’ I went through eighth grade thinking I don’t talk to anybody outside of school and then realized no one wants to talk to me outside of school.
“But I didn’t want to make a big deal out of my situation. I was like, ‘Everyone goes through stuff like this. Why make a big deal out of it?’”
Eventually, she said, simply lacking friendships devolved to a more ominous place.
The Snapchats were the ugliest. She says she began receiving several Snaps a week with “F--- off!” or “Go F yourself!” or “Go kill yourself!’
Kyra did mention the Snaps to her mother, who suggested taking screenshots of them. But she was reluctant because then the senders would be aware (a function of the social media app).
“It gave me a lot of anxiety,” she said. “Who says this about me? What did I do to have them say this about me?”
That’s when she started eating lunch alone in her car. When the bus carrying teams from Skyview, Senior, and West would drop off the golfers at football games or other events, she would continue home with the coaches, thinking it just more deflating to attend alone.
Kyra said Wohler, her golf coach, would tease her about her loner habits. “Eating in your car again, Brockhausen?” she remembers him saying more than once.
When asked his perspective, Wohler deferred to Billings Public Schools superintendent Greg Upham. A call and email to Skyview principal Deb Black went unreturned.
Upham said after receiving an inquiry from 406mtsports.com and the Billings Gazette about Kyra he checked with Black, Wohler, and others at Skyview. He said there was “no knowledge from building administration and coaches that I’m aware of,” and added, “I don’t want this to come out sounding cold, but … there’s just no information. One thing I can say they shared with me is they were just unaware.”
The Brockhausens have mixed feelings about a conclusion that doesn’t surprise them.
On the one hand, as Kyra puts it, “I’d like to think it was pretty obvious how upset I was with how things were going, and that I would go out in my car and cry and find any excuse to get out of teammate things for golf.”
On the other hand, she concedes, noting that two older sisters who graduated from high school in Great Falls advised against expressing herself for fear of further retribution, “I can’t throw blame on people because I could’ve come forward.”
Kurt and Marianne Brockhausen wonder what they could’ve done differently. They've even questioned whether they've been "terrible parents," Marianne said.
Marianne saw the tears, but admits thinking for too long,“I have three daughters, so I’m used to the emotional thing.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever once had a conversation about what the solution is, quite honestly. That’s one part of the story. I don’t think any of us has it,” Kurt added.
In general terms, Upham said Kyra's story is a reminder to "be more vigilant and to look for things, and to always be aware. I think we can always be better and more vigilant."
Kyra assumed depression would be her destiny at Skyview and latched on to her father’s brief opportunity with a job in Bozeman as an escape hatch.
The family friend they luckily bumped into at the Chinese restaurant shortly after that definitive Friday night outburst in 2018 was Bernadette "Bernie" Steffan, executive director of Life Skills for Montana Youth.
Steffan adored Kyra as a participant in her First Tee program, which uses golf to teach kids a wide variety of core values, like good judgment and perseverance. Marianne shared the misery her daughter was experiencing.
“You know, Marianne, why don’t you give Central a try?” said Steffan, whose family roots run deep at the school. “If you want, I’ll make a call.”
She did on a Sunday, and on the Monday before Easter break 2018, the Brockhausens met with Central principal Shel Hanser. When they arrived, Kyra’s name was on the school monitor. Seemingly every student and teacher offered welcoming hellos in the hallways.
The next day, Kyra returned to Skyview, "just to see if anything changed," and immediately noted her heart racing to 120 beats per minute — as she saw on her Fitbit.
“It was probably the hardest day I ever had at Skyview,” she said. “It was like, ‘No one here cares about me.’”
The Brockhausens fretted about the tuition at Central, but after seeing the reception for Kyra and the instant change in their daughter's demeanor, they decided they couldn’t afford not to find a way to send her there.
“It’s almost too good to be true,” Kyra said, adding that she waited “for the novelty to wear off and just go back to the way things were, but a week after I’d transferred I felt like I’d been there for years.”
Playing by the book
After finishing 21st as a freshman and tying for 12th as a sophomore in the Class AA golf tournaments for Skyview, Kyra was eager to compete for her new school as a junior.
Instead she bumped into a Montana High School Association rule requiring transferring athletes to sit 90 days, barring extenuating circumstances, meaning she would miss the season. The Brockhausens appealed to the MHSA Board, citing Kyra’s experiences at Skyview as extenuating, but they were rejected.
They are convinced the MHSA was led to believe Kyra was transferring simply to switch golf programs, even though the Rams had only two other players and thus no team in 2018. Some in the golfing community suggested Steffan was trying to beef up her alma mater's golf roster.
“All it was, I was just trying to help a young girl out and make her teen years, which are already horrible for girls, better for her,” Steffan counters, dismissing the notion as absurd. “You’ve got this gal struggling so bad at Skyview. If we don’t do something, I’m not sure she’ll be here next year.”
Steffan and others wrote letters in support of Kyra. Included was one from Tawnya Catron, the counselor she visited at Castle Rock four years earlier.
Catron described Kyra as "sweet" and "academically motivated."
"She could put a smile on and plow through a given situation," Catron wrote. "This can be a wonderful coping mechanism, but it can also lead to a lot of internal anxiety."
A year later, the Brockhausens, Steffan and Hutchinson, the Central coach, still resent the decision and believe it another example of a bureaucratic machine allowing Kyra to slip through the cracks.
They’re even more befuddled by how anyone could bully or ostracize Kyra.
“Every time I’ve been around this girl she’s nothing but cheery and fun and happy,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve seen nothing but positives with this girl. I keep scratching my head and going, ‘I don’t understand why anyone would have an issue with this girl’.”
It was Kyra and Hutchinson who first discussed going public with her ordeal, and they wrangled with the accompanying pressure. Her poorest performance this fall, in fact, came when the Rams competed against Skyview, when she heard the whispers.
“When it comes out, you’re going to have people come after you verbally,” Hutchinson said he told her, and then recited her response: "I don’t care. I’m in such a good place right now that stuff doesn’t bother me. We’ll deal with it when it comes. I’d much rather have it happen and the story really get out there. If there’s one person affected in a positive way, it’s totally worth it.”
In a recent interview in the same living room where she broke down in March 2018, surrounded by parents who are unabashedly "proud of her" for coming forward, Kyra elaborated on her reasoning.
“I think it’s important because personally when I was at Skyview I felt like I couldn’t go to the counselors or principal,” she said. “Like, 'What’s the point of going and telling people what I’m going through? Because it could be so much worse.' So that’s the kind of mindset I had with it. But I think looking back on it, that wasn’t the right mindset to have. Obviously don't hide your emotions from everyone because that doesn't help.
"I learned that the hard way.”