Susan and Brian’s troubles escalated, and by the fall of 1999, Brian had moved out. The divorce in 2000, Egelston recalled, “rocked their world.” It was especially hard on young Bradley, who moved with his mother to a smaller, rented house in town. Casey was by now in college.
That same year, his father remarried, and the new wife’s son changed his name to Manning. One afternoon in 2001, Bradley came home devastated after a visit to his father, Susan Manning recalled. He felt replaced by his stepbrother, Dustin. Bradley began literally climbing the wall in frustration — taking two or three steps, running up the wall, then hopping off, over and over. She called Egelston and asked her to intercede. Egelston finally got him to his room and sat him down. He was “just totally frustrated,” Egelston recalled. He blurted out: “Nobody understands!” He confessed his sense of rejection to his mother. “I’m nobody now, Mom,” he said.
Bradley was now an adolescent, coming into his sexual awakening. The summer he was 13, he confided to Davis and another friend that he had a crush on a boy. “It was, I guess, me,” Davis said. “I was flattered. It was a little bit awkward.” Bradley came out to his mother, very matter-of-factly, at the dining room table about the same time. She remembers telling him it was “okay with me, but try not to tell other people — especially your dad.”
Bradley did not speak openly of the turmoil at home. Besides, big things were happening in the world, and even as a 13-year-old, he was keenly aware of current events. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Bradley and Jordan Davis saw the footage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. “Oh, man, this is unbelievable,” Davis recalled them saying. The boys felt that they were alone in their class in seeing the “game-changing” nature of the attack. “This was going to be by far the biggest event of this decade and maybe the next, probably one of the biggest events of this new century.”
It was amid this turbulence that Manning’s mother decided to return to Wales, and in November, Bradley announced to surprised friends and teachers that he was leaving. They flew from Washington on Thanksgiving Day after spending a few nights in Potomac with Bradley’s Aunt Debbi, Brian’s older sister. Bradley, by now the man of the family, had made the airline reservations online himself.