An eastern redbud tree will soon grow in a peaceful corner of Brand Park, alongside a bench for park-goers to rest and reflect on the woman whom the two amenities commemorate.
The City Council this week approved placement of the memorial items that will honor the life of Glendale native Lauren Geoghegan, who with her boyfriend, Jay Austin, and two others were killed in 2018 by militants in Tajikistan who later pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Geoghegan’s parents, Elvira Muñoz and Robert Geoghegan, approached the city earlier this year about the idea.
“We thought of Brand Park immediately as the place to do this, as it played such an important part of her life,” Muñoz said via Zoom at this week’s meeting. “Lauren spent many happy hours there over the years learning many things, developing her relationships with family and friends and growing up.”
Geoghegan, born in September 1988, and her family moved to northwest Glendale from the southern part of the city when she was 2, beginning her relationship with Brand Park. On top of routinely using the playground equipment and playing games with her friends, Geoghegan also practiced soccer through the American Youth Soccer Organization at the park.
As she grew up, Geoghegan joined the drill team at Mark Keppel Elementary School, enrolled in swimming classes at Crescenta Valley High School and sang in the choir at First United Methodist Church of Glendale. Meanwhile, her interest in Brand Park continued as she embarked on hikes and took classes there.
Geoghegan later went to Immaculate Heart middle and high schools, graduating in 2006. After volunteering for Congressman Adam Schiff’s office, she studied at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., studying government, Arabic and Spanish.
In 2017, Geoghegan and Austin had embarked on an international bike tour that began in South Africa and brought the pair north through Africa, Italy and the Balkans in Europe and then through Turkey and on to Central Asia. They documented their journeys through a blog and endeavored to live on about $15 a day.
In a 2018 memorial service at Immaculate Heart — where a scholarship honoring Geoghegan has been established — an emotional Schiff fought through tears as he acknowledged how inspirational she and Austin had become as people around the world began “to know them posthumously.” The lawmaker also spoke of the devotion to public service that she demonstrated.
“Some may think that is because of how they died. That is just not so,” he said in 2018. “No, it is how Lauren and Jay lived which moves us. It is how their example jars us out of a lethargy and complacency of our own lives, forces us to wake up and see the beauty around us, to take a deep breath and take it in.”
The couple was biking with a pair from Switzerland and another from the Netherlands on July 29, 2018, when five militants in a car collided with them on a highway in Tajikistan and attacked them afterward. The tragedy garnered international media attention and was prominently featured on an episode of the New York Times series “The Weekly,” based on reporter Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting.
“It’s a thing that parents fear the most,” said Councilman Dan Brotman, who initially brought the item to council, “and I know this memorial doesn’t take any of that away, but I’m hoping that by creating a space for people to come by — and maybe they’ll be interested in learning about who Lauren is and her life and may be inspired in some way — I think that brings something positive into our world and I’m hoping that that gives some comfort to Lauren’s parents.”
Muñoz said she hopes the corner of the park will be the same place of growth that it was for her daughter. The bench and tree will be placed near the children’s playground and will take up to eight weeks to be installed. The family is funding the project.
“Throughout her life, Lauren loved children, and children loved her,” she said.