The outsize life of a beloved transit advocate, Twitter employee and Bay Area renaissance man was tragically cut short Monday evening, when 22-year-old Courtney Brousseau succumbed to his injuries after being struck by gunfire three days earlier in the Mission District.
Family and friends gathered in San Francisco over the weekend to say their final goodbyes, and Twitter lit up with heartfelt anecdotes from friends, as well as sympathy and outpourings of grief from strangers.
“He just had such fierce empathy for so many communities,” said Savannah Badalich, a friend and Twitter co-worker. “He wanted to make a difference, and he did.”
Brousseau’s intellect and drive were evident from a young age, when he and co-editor in chief Grace O’Toole ran their student newspaper, the Panther Prowler, at Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks (Ventura County). The high school seniors wanted to try something different for the paper’s special edition.
“Let’s talk about sex,” the Prowler’s headline screamed. The accompanying photo was less subtle: A woman’s hand, nails lacquered in turquoise polish, rolled a fire-engine red condom over a banana.
The teens didn’t anticipate the uproar that followed, when a few horrified parents accused them of sexual harassment and the school board demanded a rebuttal.
But the kids were ready. Armed with freedom-of-press legalese and a passion for student rights, Brousseau and O’Toole went toe-to-toe with the board — and won with few concessions.
There was no rebuttal, no apology, just an open letter from the editors, explaining their decisions and encouraging the community to read the piece.
“They really changed the conversation about student journalism and student rights in high schools,” said Michelle Saremi, Brousseau and O’Toole’s faculty adviser. “Courtney was just one of those kids; he was going to be president. I was going to vote for him.”
Friends and co-workers who spoke to The Chronicle describe a young man of boundless energy and unrivaled principles. His confidence and drive were contagious, his friends said. He was a natural leader and pushed others to be better and take risks.
Brousseau recently graduated from UC Berkeley and had the type of star-studded resume that could open any door. His bright, powerful personality usually pushed him through them.
He was an intern for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a civic digital fellow for Code.gov, a consultant for California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and a program manager intern at Microsoft.
Brousseau landed a job as an associate product manager at Twitter in September, working on notifications projects with an eye toward making technology more accessible and inclusive, Badalich said.
He was building new products that would impact people across the globe, and he tackled every project with a civic mind-set, Badalich said.
“Every moment of his day had to be advocating,” she said. “He just had such fierce empathy for so many communities; he wanted to make a difference and he did.”
Brousseau’s commitment to the community guided his work at Twitter, as well as his personal life and side projects like Gay for Transit, which Brousseau described on his website as “a monthly SF meetup for queer folks who love public transit.”
As the coronavirus outbreak was beginning to take hold of the Bay Area, he offered to help people with their own projects.
“I spent a lot of $ on LEGO last night for my own mental health,” Brousseau posted to Twitter on March 13. “Now I want to help other folks who might be struggling due to COVID-19. If you know someone who needs help, an organization that is helping, or a donation you want me to match, reply w/ info. I’ll donate up to $400.”
In the following weeks, Brousseau commented on replies to the original post and highlighted each organization that moved him to donate. Beneficiaries included groups feeding the homeless, donating masks to transit riders and advocating for LGBT teens.
I spent a lot of $ on LEGO last night for my own mental health. Now I want to help other folks who might be struggling due to COVID-19. If you know someone who needs help, an organization that is helping, or a donation you want me to match, reply w/ info. I’ll donate up to $400
— Courtney Brousseau (@cbrewsayso) March 13, 2020
Saremi and O’Toole said Brousseau was a high achiever from an early age. He created a social media presence for his school newspaper and organized a garage sale — at Saremi’s house — when he was told the paper didn’t have the funding for a web design program.
“He always had a vision that I couldn’t quite see yet,” Saremi said. “He was always very convincing and he was usually right.”
Saremi was out on maternity leave when the special edition of the student newspaper was published, and O’Toole and Brousseau were forced to largely face the school board on their own.
“He just took it in stride,” said O’Toole, who dated Brousseau in high school and part of college. “We went up against all these textually powerful figures, and I continue to be proud of that.”
Brousseau went out to get a burrito Friday night and posted a picture of his dinner at 8:17 p.m., with Dolores Park in the background.
“I just ate a delicious burrito in Dolores park and for a brief moment everything felt okay,” he wrote.
I just ate a delicious burrito in Dolores park and for a brief moment everything felt okay pic.twitter.com/bTyWotvXDF
— Courtney Brousseau (@cbrewsayso) May 2, 2020
Brousseau was walking home from Dolores Park at 8:22 p.m. Friday when 50 to 60 shots were fired at the intersection of Rosa Parks Lane and Guerrero Street, according to San Francisco police. The gunfire left him critically wounded and caused non-life-threatening injuries to an 18-year-old victim.
The park is five blocks from the site of the shooting.
Colleagues and friends of Brousseau, who identified him as the victim who was killed, said he was on life support Sunday. He died around 7 p.m. Monday, said Brent Andrew, a San Francisco General Hospital spokesman.
Chris Arvin, 29, a close friend, said the shooting occurred as Brousseau was walking back to his home on Duboce Avenue, where he and several other friends were scheduled to have their regular Friday night video call and game night.
San Francisco police spokesman Officer Robert Rueca said no arrests have been made in connection to the shooting.
“This active and ongoing homicide investigation is looking into all aspects,” he said, noting that officers at this stage “are not confirming or ruling anything out,” he said.
Badalich said the following weeks will be filled with virtual vigils and happy hours in Brousseau’s honor. One of them will include Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, she said.
In a statement emailed to The Chronicle, a Twitter spokesperson said, “We are heartbroken to confirm the passing of a Twitter employee involved in a shooting last week. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and teammates at this difficult time.”
Badalich described the loss of Brousseau as two-pronged. There’s the loss of everything he already gave, and the loss of what the future held for him and his community.
“He just got it,” Badalich said. “He understood how to create change.”
Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @meganrcassidy