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Sister of Stacie Brugger shares memories of her sister in wake of shooting death

Contributed Photo • Stacie Brugger holds her niece, Paisley Bailey, in her arms.

By Richard Rourk

A family is mourning the loss of a loving daughter, sister, aunt and friend in the aftermath of a shooting at an Erwin campground over the weekend.

Stacie Brugger, 21, died in the late evening hours of Saturday, Feb. 5, inside Nolichucky Gorge Campground on Jones Branch Road, according to Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley.

A suspect in the shooting, Tyler Lee Owens, 29, has been taken into custody and is awaiting trial.

Brugger’s family is just beginning to adjust to the shock of learning of Stacie’s death.

 “We were so close,” Marissa Brugger, Stacie’s sister, told The Erwin Record. 

“We shared a room up until our high school years, so we had no choice but to be besties,” Marissa said. “She was my best friend.”

Marissa Brugger has been trying to focus on fond memories of her “best friend” and sibling. 

“I live in Kentucky and my sister did also until she was 17,” Marissa said. “She moved to Bristol to be with our mom and finish off high school, so we haven’t seen each other as much as we would have liked to these last four years, but it never messed with our bond.”

In fact, Marissa said the distance made them even closer in some ways. 

“These last four months I haven’t seen her but one time and didn’t get to talk to her much since she had no cell service in Erwin and she worked late usually,” Marissa said.

“So if she could catch me on her ride home from work we would talk each other’s ear off,” Marissa said. “We had so many nicknames for each other, and inside jokes.”

Marissa said that she and her sister even made their own language one time so that their parents couldn’t figure out what they were saying. 

“Long story short, she was nothing short of my best friend in this entire world,” Marissa said.

From left: Marissa Brugger, brother Jackson Brugger, sister Jaiden Brugger and Stacie Brugger are seen together in a family photo. Stacie Brugger, 21, died in a shooting Saturday, Feb. 5, at an Erwin campground.

Stacie was also a one-of-a-kind aunt to Marissa’s daughter, Paisley Bailey. 

“She loved her family and friends,” Marissa said. “With Paisley, we’ve joked the last five years that she is Stacie’s child that somehow made her way into my body. She is Stacie made all over. Stacie will live through my baby girl forever. She had left a voice message to my kiddo telling her that she was coming to see her this past weekend and how much she loved her. She loved that baby so much.”

According to Marissa, Stacie was planning on moving back to Kentucky to be with family. 

“Stacie wanted nothing more than to be with her family and friends,” Marissa said. “She was wanting to move back to Kentucky.”

Marissa explained that she is pregnant and knows that she is having a boy. In addition, their sister-in-law is due to give birth to a daughter in March. 

“Stacie wanted so badly to spend her days with her family,” Marissa said.  “She was packed up and ready to come to Kentucky for my gender reveal on Sunday.”

Marissa said that she had been FaceTiming with Stacie late Saturday evening. “She was so happy to be coming to celebrate with us,” she said.

Now, she feels that she had been robbed of a sister and a best friend.

All she can do is help her family to remember what a bright light Stacie was in the world. 

“She was the most loyal person, an absolute ray of sunshine,” Marissa said. “She was so brutally honest but in the best way possible. She was the one to tell me if an outfit was truly horrendous. She was so funny that she could make anyone laugh and she rarely walked around without a smile on her face. She was simply the best.”

Marissa noted that although Stacie will never get the chance to meet her new nephew and niece, Stacie was already in love with the two children. 

“She unfortunately never got the news that I am having a boy,” Marissa Brugger said. “She was supposed to be in Kentucky this past Sunday for my gender reveal but her life was taken before she had the chance to make it. She wanted a nephew so bad, so I know that she is rejoicing in heaven. She was so excited for another niece. Family meant everything to her.”

Marissa said that she and her family want justice for Stacie and will honor her memory every day. 

“We are going to honor her in every way possible,” Marissa Brugger said. “We will be having a service for her later this week. We are still discussing all of the final arrangements and celebrations.”

Contributed Photo • Father Donnie Brugger, left, and mother April Trivette, right, are pictured with their daughter, Stacie Brugger.