Heart of Darkness (Part II)
In the ten years since losing my son Kyle, I’ve never been able to understand the unfeeling behavior of Kyle’s biological father, Tom Brennan. His lack of caring—along with his seeming lack of emotion—went far beyond the boundaries of normalcy. The core of one’s humanity, in my opinion, is not difficult to define: It includes the ability to reason, to decipher between right and wrong, compassion toward others, and of course emotion and the ability to express it.
In the first few days following Kyle’s death, Tom Brennan’s indifference—his detached state of being—were obvious to family members. His inhumanity was “chilling and unnerving.” Within hours of Kyle’s death, Kyle’s step-brother Scott contacted Tom Brennan by phone. Scott wanted to understand what had gone so horribly wrong in the last days of his younger brother’s life. (Remember, we’d been told by the medical examiner’s office that Kyle had committed suicide.)
Why had this forward-looking twenty-year-old taken his own life? Scott was immediately taken aback by how his step-father came across. Expecting him to be shaken, engulfed with grief, Scott was shocked when Tom Brennan answered the phone in a celebratory mood. “[W]hen I called him . . .” stated Scott in his deposition, “he thought I was a different person. . . . When Tom picked up, he said ‘hey, Scott, how’s it going, what’s going on, buddy?’” Evidently, when Brennan realized which Scott he had on the phone—his step-son and not some everyday acquaintance—“[h]is voice became somber. . . .” Scott explained how this “threw” him at first, “because it sounded like he had won the lottery, and I just couldn’t figure [it] out . . . of course I was grief stricken at the time.” “He told me at least twice,” said Scott, “that he didn’t understand how it could happen, that he hadn’t pushed or talked about Scientology with Kyle and that Scientology didn’t have anything to do with it [Kyle’s death]. It struck me as being very odd because it [Scientology] was the furthest thing from my mind, and I had never brought it up. I didn’t bring it up, and he kept injecting it [Scientology] into the conversation.”
It was so soon after the death of his only son, and yet Tom Brennan, an employee of the mega-wealthy Church of Scientology, had already returned to work. (It’s important to note that Tom Brennan lied repeatedly in this conversation. He had indeed “talked about Scientology” with his son, and he had indeed “pushed” Scientology on him.
When Kyle visited Brennan in Clearwater, Florida, in the summer of 2006, Brennan told him that Scientology was all he needed in life, he didn’t need to go to college. Brennan also “pushed” Scientology on his son in February 2007 by seizing Kyle’s prescribed psychiatric medication, his Lexapro, and locking it in the trunk of his vehicle. Tom Brennan lied about “talking” up and “pushing” Scientology on Kyle, so why should any reasonable person believe that “Scientology didn’t have anything to do with” Kyle’s death? Just as William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet in 1602, Tom Brennan “doth protest too much.” It’s obvious that he kept injecting these statements into his conversation with Scott Brennan because he was trying to convince Scott of these lies.)
Life does not prepare you to lose a child, it’s a blow that brings you to your knees and leaves you with lifelong bruises. It’s a heartache like no other.
During those first months after losing Kyle, I could not wrap my head around how or why Tom Brennan behaved so coldly toward him. I knew that Brennan was with Kyle when he died. Tom Brennan first told Kyle’s Virginia family that he’d arrived home the night of February 16, 2007—at his Clearwater, Florida, apartment where Kyle was staying—at 10:30 p.m. He later changed his time of arrival to 11:15. Brennan’s 911 call for help did not go out until 12:10 a.m. How can a parent be so disconnected from their child—and from their own humanity—to not call immediately for help? And what was happening in Brennan’s apartment between 10:30 p.m. and 12:10 a.m. anyway?
I am no closer to finding answers to these questions than I was ten years ago. On the police recording of Brennan’s 911 call his voice is flat, without emotion. Ken Dandar, a lawyer representing the Estate of Kyle Brennan, described it as “a voice of depravity.” Dandar told me that “Brennan was cold, unemotional, not what you’d expect to hear from a parent who’s calling to say their child is dead. It sounded like Brennan was ordering a pizza.”
In my darkest days after Kyle’s passing, I was extremely troubled, haunted by innumerable questions. I couldn’t grasp how the horrific tragedy in Clearwater had unfolded. I couldn’t understand Brennan’s behavior. Broken, overwhelmed with grief, I searched for a counselor who could help me understand. How does someone lose their humanity? Why were Brennan and his fellow Scientologists—the people around Kyle on his final days—so cold and unfeeling?
Not knowing anything about the Church of Scientology, I looked online and found the phone number of cult expert Rick Alan Ross. Private consultant, lecturer, and cult-intervention specialist, Ross began working as an anti-cult activist in 1982. Since then he’s worked with the FBI, and has been qualified and accepted as an expert court witness in eleven different U.S. states. He’s also worked with the governments of Israel and China. (For more information see http://www.culteducation.com, the web-site of the Cult Education Institute founded by Ross in 1996.)
Over the phone I asked Ross why Scientologists behaved the way they did. Why was Brennan so unfeeling? Before answering he asked how long Tom Brennan had been involved with the Church of Scientology. (The answer was at least eight years.) Ross then explained that, after being involved for so long, Brennan’s main concern in life would be the Church. As a devoted follower, Brennan put Scientology first in his life. Everything else was secondary, including his only son’s well-being.
Compassionate yet blunt, Ross told me—and I now understood for the first time—that Kyle would have been unwanted, a problem source for his father because of his medication and connection to psychiatry. Ross explained, too, why Kyle’s death meant so very little to his father. From a Scientology point-of-view, it meant merely that Kyle had “dropped his body.” He could pick up another one soon.
The Church of Scientology’s dictatorial control over its adherents is not just deeply disturbing—it’s also immoral and dangerous. Brainwashed by their religion, Scientologists seem to lose concept of the boundary separating right from wrong. They’ve been told by the Church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, that in the pursuance of a “just cause”—Scientology, of course—it’s perfectly acceptable to step across that boundary at will. They’ve been taught that the collective, the organization—the Church of Scientology—comes first. It comes before them, before their families, and sometimes even before the lives of their children.
Dr. Stephen McNamara