by Kari Diviney
The first time I ever visited West Virginia University was to see my big brother, Ryan Diviney, for a weekend. I was a high school senior at that time and he was at the beginning of his sophomore year at WVU. Ryan had a 3.8 GPA and was destined for great things.
This first time I ever visited Ryan at WVU was also the last time I would ever truly be with Ryan… the Ryan without traumatic brain injury.
Ryan loved West Virginia University. It was all that he would talk about. He loved his friends, the football, the people of Morgantown and West Virginia, and of course…. the ladies. I can honestly say I had never seen my brother happier.
Ryan begged me to visit for the WVU “night-game”, which every WVU student knows is the football game of the year. I was flattered that my big brother, who was always so much cooler than me, wanted to hang out with me. See, as we were finally growing into young adults, were just beginning to get close in a more meaningful way… and nothing meant more to me than Ryan wanting me to visit him at his school.
I had the best weekend of my life. We played cornhole & beerpong, we tailgated, we went to parties… then finished the night with food from R U Hungry (now known as Sandwich U). We did it all. I got the true Morgantown Experience. Little did I know he set this all up in hopes that I, too, would apply to WVU.
When I learned Ryan wanted me to join him at WVU it brought tears to my eyes. My whole life I wanted to be close to my brother and it was all finally happening. Ryan even helped me apply for early enrollment. He told me everything to put on my application in hopes that I would become a Mountaineer with him.
After I applied Ryan texted me that he wanted me to come visit again for Halloween, but unfortunately I was sick.
I still wish more than anything that I went that weekend… because then I would’ve seen him one last time.
One week later my brother and his friend (and roommate) Brian McLhinney and another acquaintance (Tyler Johnson) crossed paths with a group of strangers outside the downtown Morgantown Dairy Mart. The World Series was coming up and the group and my brother exchanged words on who was going to win.
Then things took a turn for the worst.
This group didn’t want to have a simple debate on sports. They were looking for a fight that night. In the Dairy Mart surveillance you can that group of strangers circling around my brother. Next my brother back-pedaled out of the group and out of the frame to try and get away.
Two members of the group, now known as Austin Vantrease and Jonathan May, started attacking Tyler Johnson and Brian McLhinney. Brian was knocked unconscious — while standing with his hands in his pockets — by Austin Vantrease. He was bleeding profusely and suffered a lasting jaw injury. As my brother started toward Brian to offer aid, Jonathan May sucker-punched Ryan from behind. Ryan, as was reported by a witness, was punched so hard — and without warning — that his feet swept-up from under him and his head was the first thing to hit the ground. Ryan’s head hit a raised steel grate and was immediately knocked unconscious.
As my brother lay defenseless and unconscious, Austin Vantrease took a running start and kicked my motionless and defenseless brother squarely in the head. The kick was described as so brutal that it looked as though Vantrease was “punting a football.”
My brother immediately stared seizing. The damage was irreversibly done. Austin Vantrease and Jonathan May ran behind the nearest dumpster (also caught on tape and testimony,) and just watched as my brother was having a seizure while every hole in his head was bleeding out. Then they ran and left him there for dead.
Ever since my brother has never been the same. Ryan now has Traumatic Brain Injury and is in a minimally conscious state. Ryan is in an “eyes-open” coma. Ryan can’t smile, laugh, talk, walk, eat, or do anything voluntary.
Ryan is gone.
Sometimes I think it was fate that I visited Ryan that weekend in the autumn. Like I was meant to be with him one last time. I hold the memories of that weekend closely and replay them every single day. It makes me feel like Ryan is still here.
I knew Ryan wanted me to attend West Virginia University more than anything, and that’s exactly what I did. I respected my brother’s wishes and began that following fall. A lot of people ask me how I did it… how I could bear to be where Ryan was… and walk the streets he walked… or go into the same buildings he did… or re-visit the places I was last with him. The answer is easy.
Because he wanted me there.
My four years at WVU made me feel like a piece of Ryan was still with me. It made me feel like a part of Ryan was still alive. I wanted to be where Ryan loved. I want to experience what Ryan experienced. It made me feel close to Ryan. I felt like I was MEANT to be there.
The hardest part of graduating for me was knowing that I would be leaving the place “twenty year old Ryan” was left. Ryan is now twenty-four. It’s been over four and a half years since his brutal beating. I was in high school at the time, and now I have graduated from college.
That hurts! That is, perhaps, what hurts the most. I feel as though I am older than my older brother.
…Ryan should’ve been there.
…Ryan should’ve experienced the whole college experience.
…Ryan and I should’ve gone to WVU together.
…Ryan should’ve been the one who graduated.
…Ryan should be here.
And it kills me… time marches on for me, but Ryan will forever been a sophomore at West Virginia University.
Please share his story.
Maddi Neff via Facebook says
Kari, you have written a very powerful article with so much heart and feeling that my heart hurts for you. Ryan is my brother’s age, and you and I are the same age. My brother started college at WVU in 2008 and I followed him two years later, because I too, am so close to Steve and wanted to be as close as possible to my big brother. I have followed Ryan’s story ever since my brother told me about it, and as I graduated from WVU over a week ago, I couldn’t help but think about you and Ryan, as well as Steve and I. I am so sorry this has happened to you. It makes me sick and painfully angry about what those soulless, inhumane boys did to Ryan and I respect you for keeping your head up and fighting to find what little light this all has. I would not have handled it as well as you and your family have. You guys are some of the strongest people I know and I will never forget you, your parents, or Ryan and his story. Graduation from WVU was a big closure for me and I would do anything to share with you that same peace of mind. I know there is not much I can say or do to ease your mind, but if you ever want to chat with someone about big brothers and WVU, I understand those relationships well. Until then, I will continue to sign every petition to keep the monster(s) locked up in the cage that they deserve to suffer in. Please keep posting updates of Ryan’s health, brain activity, etc. All of my love, prayers, and support to you and your family. And congratulations on your graduation, you should be very proud! Let’s Go…
Karyn Mandracchia Ahern via Facebook says
Wow, this just brought me to tears, you are so sweet Kari. I can’t believe I will post this but those Bastards better not ever get out of prison, this just makes me sick !!!! Poor sweet Ryan didn’t deserve any of this from those A$$ Hole punks, my heart is breaking for all of you. Sorry for the bad language this just hits a bad nerve I can say alot worst but I won’t. I Love you all Diviney Family. Always in my thoughts and prayers from CT with Love <3 <3 <3 <3. Keep the Faith.
Ryan's Rally LLC says
Karyn, sadly… one is already out (Jonathan May) after serving just 7 months. The other (Austin Vantrease) could get out as early as this summer, but probably no longer than the next.
Kathryn Beggs Howlett via Facebook says
Yes, he should have. You are always in my thoughts.
March 2010 I suffered a subdural brain injury. I nearly died, my attacker still walks today. My thoughts and prayers are will you and your family.
Christina Cook via Facebook says
My heart and prayers are always w ur family…
PK Miller says
Kari, I am moved to tears at your posting. I cannot imagine your pain, the pain of your family. I wish I had some answers about the evil in this world, why bad things happen to good people and the converse. I don’t. I understand the Rabbi position in his book, a God as saddened, maybe angered, to be very anthropomorphic, at our decisions, the pain we cause each other but constrained for His own reasons not to intervene. My prayers are with you all daily. You & your parents need prayers as much as Ryan. I also pray that, please God, Ryan is with you in spirit if he cannot be with you in full consciousness.
I do believe, Kari, as a Christian, (Roman Catholic cum Episcopalian), God WILL “set all things right in heaven and on earth,” as He promised. I know you–we all–want these things set right now. These men will be judged by the Ultimate Judge with whom there are no lawyers, no appeals, no plea bargains. They will stand before that judge and receive His justice that humankind cannot render.
I know that’s scant comfort. I know how much you want your brother back. I understand your anger. My husband & I often “double date” w/my oldest grandniece & her fiancé, who adore their crazy great uncles! (Feeling is mutual–theyre great kids!) Tim & I have often said, we’d kill anyone who ever messed w/them. Just as her dad has said, he & their mom would kill anyone who touched the girls & dare any jury to convict them. It’s easy for me to say forgive those men. I don’t know, Kari, if I could were I in your circumstances. You continue to be in a LOT of prayers. I particularly pray you & Ryan & your family do not have to wait till the next world to be made whole in Christ.
Thank you for sharing your story. I hope, that in itself is cathartic, maybe healing. May God’s peace that surpasses all understanding be with you and your brother & your family.
PK & Tim
Congratulations Kari! You have worked so hard in college with such painful reminders in Morgantown. I hope you have a strong sense of accomplishment. I know how it felt years ago when I graduated and I didn’t have the heavy emotional weight you deal with every day.
On another note, I love the idea of a “Ryan’s Law”! Austin and Jon, especially Jon May, got off so light with their sentences. There are too many of these attacks in our country, for some reason it is becoming “ok” to punch someone out, or kick them in the head. Let’s try to get a politician behind us to introduce a law. Does anyone know the politicians in WVA or Ryan’s home state of Virginia who would sponsor this? I live in Maryland, I think it should start in WVA where the crime took place or Virginia his home state.
Caitlin Bennett says
I have been following Ryan’s Rally for several months and was a student at WVU at the same time that Ryan was. I cried when I read this post. I cannot even fathom the pain you and your family feels. Please know that Ryan is always in my thoughts.
Pam Stinnett Lamarre via Facebook says
Praying praying praying
Kari, you have a light within you that shines like eternal summer!! Your accomplishments and ability to rise above the sorrow of what has happened to your family continues to be a huge inspiration to all of us. Ryan was and is so proud of you and I believe he always knew your great potential and all the exciting things you would accomplish in life.
In the midst of the terrible suffering that was caused by the immorality and violence of others, you still shine, and in his way, so does Ryan. You and your family remain stronger, tougher, braver, classier and more complete and beautiful than Vantrease and May could even fanaticize of becoming. This truth is what defines you and will ensure you live the wonderful life you deserve.
Team Diviney continues to surround you and your family with our prayers and our love. And we’re not going anywhere. Now is the time for you to pursue your dreams and reach for the stars. Keep being the amazing person you are, and be happy, for in doing this, you will fulfill Ryan’s most treasured hope for you.
Sending my love, prayers, faith and abiding hope — “No matter how rough the seas become, what you’ve got to do is keep believing”
Karen T. says
What a nice post, Kari. Love you all.
Paige Thomas says
I have been following your post for a few months now. During the night, it was as if the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said there should be a Ryan’s Law established that if anyone is struck in the head during any type of assault, the charge is attempted murder or 3rd degree murder. Those boys stripped your brother and your family of life…his body is here but he has no life. This wasn’t caused by a disease, this was caused by cowards who hit him from the blindside. This has to stop. This is happening all over the country, leaving people lifeless and families to deal with the aftermath. My son also suffered a TBI but his was from a fall while hiking in Chattanooga. TBI changes lives forever, regardless of the severity. I cannot imagine the heartbreak I would feel had this TBI been a result of an attack on my son. I pray for Ryan and your family every night. You’re a strong family. You will get through this and I can only hope that changes can be made across this country to bring awareness to TBI, through Ryan’s story.
God bless your family and you.
Ryan's Rally LLC says
It’s every bit as deplorable as beating a helpless infant or abusing the elderly… in my opinion. Being defenseless has nothing to do with age.
Paige Thomas says
I couldn’t agree more.
Laurie Dexter Saunders via Facebook says
Such potential, such a tragedy.
I am a friend and love Ryan dearly. It hurts to read this, but cannot imagine how much you and your family
Here for you always. <3
Now, this is love defined. Thank you.
Laura Lee via Facebook says
You are precious Kari….Morgantown LOVES the Diviney’s….<3
Diana Kavett via Facebook says
Yes…so very hard to accept.
Every single time I read one of your post or your dad’s posts, I can’t help but cry.. It’s just horrible what happened to your brother!! I know it must be hard for you to move forward & pursue your dreams. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is for you! But I also can’t imagine that your brother would want anything but the very best for you!! He wouldn’t want you to hold back or feel guilty about being happy & living your life!!
So live your life the best way possible.. Live each day to the fullest & live it for both of you:-)
Your kids are amazing <3