Tanya Brown didn't know whether to laugh or cry when she learned that Ford Motor Co. planned to reveal the all-new Ford Bronco July 9.
"Is that on purpose?" she asked. "My first reaction was, 'are you kidding me? This is funny?' "
The Brown family is surprised the world premiere of the popular SUV falls on the birthday of former football star Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson, who led police on a slow-speed chase in a Ford Bronco through Los Angeles after the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994.
"I just don't know if it's a good marketing twist," Tanya Brown, Nicole's sister, told the Free Press.
The timing was "purely coincidental," a Ford spokesman said.
Tanya Brown wondered whether people realize that the case also involved domestic violence. In fact, the domestic abuse of Nicole Brown Simpson created a national outpouring that has endured all these years.
"Thousands, I can't tell you, thousands of letters came to our home," Tanya Brown said.
New Ford Bronco will debut on July 9. Yes, that is OJ Simpson's birthday
Burying a daughter
The painful trauma of an 11-month trial still feels fresh even today, she said. It's especially hard for Juditha Brown, now a widow, who buried her eldest daughter all those years ago.
She and Tanya combed through old family photo albums in Laguna Niguel, California, late Tuesday. It was the eve of the 26th anniversary of the infamous police chase.
"She’s one who has remained very private, very quiet," said Tanya Brown, 50, the youngest of the four Brown girls, said of her mother. "She asked me, 'Why is it that I'm reflecting on the past? Why am I thinking about the trial?' "
America caught a glimpse of the young Simpson children — Sydney and Justin — during the murder trial. Now those children are in their 30s.
On June 12, the day of the murders, Tanya Brown held a live candlelight vigil on Facebook. Her mother was there with her, behind the scenes.
Everything feels raw, Tanya Brown said. "This year was really more difficult."
The family recently viewed photos and a wedding video of O.J. and Nicole, Tanya Brown said.
"We have moved on but you don't forget. You learn to live without that person. It gets easier with time. I think that's a defense we've all been given anytime somebody dies."
Over the years, the Brown family has grown used to seeing their name in headlines associated with the so-called trial of the century that ended with the acquittal of Simpson. He later lost a wrongful death civil case.
During the chase, the driver of the Bronco, former football player Al Cowlings, called 911 and reported Simpson had a gun and threatened to kill himself in the backseat. The whole thing was captured live on TV as media helicopters hovered overhead.
"That whole event changed us," Tanya Brown said. "Nicole was 10 years older than me. I was 8 when she moved out of the house. My grief was that her candle was blown out right when our lives were kind of intersecting. I was in college, at UC-San Diego. I was getting to know her as a woman and a big sister."
The last family photo was taken on Mother's Day 1994.
The following month, Nicole was buried in Ascension Cemetery in Orange County, California, not far from Disneyland.
"In the past, when I would be at a restaurant, I would sometimes sit back and say, 'Everyone in this room knows my sister.' Everybody knows Nicole. You can go to any corner of the world," Tanya Brown said. "I can't bring her back."
To this day, women write and email the family and say the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson inspired them to leave abusive relationships, Brown said. "She is basically the face for domestic violence. I hate to say it."
The family hasn't spoken to O.J. Simpson in many years, she said. "We chose to keep everything amicable. He is their dad at the end of the day. And we encouraged them to have a relationship with their dad. It's daddy, no matter what the parents have done."
Sydney Simpson is close to her grandmother, calling a few times a week, Brown said of her niece. And Justin Simpson visits every once in awhile.
"They're doing great," said Tanya Brown, who works in business development for drug and alcohol treatment in Southern California.
'If you're in trouble'
Louis Brown Jr., the patriarch of the family, is very much missed by his surviving daughters and widow. He died in 2014 at age 90, a man who bought and sold car washes early in his career is remembered by many as an advocate for domestic violence victims.
His wife, who has taken great pride in being a stay-at-home mom, is the rock of the family at age 89.
Apart from the anniversary of the police chase and the trial, the coronavirus pandemic has added a new layer of stress and anxiety. One thing fuels another and it's hard, Tanya Brown said.
"If you're in trouble, talk about it. If you're hurting, talk about it. There's no shame in not being OK," she said. "If you're going through a hard time, no matter what, get help."
Helping others has had a healing effect on the Brown family, Tanya said. And providing valuable context to a cultural phenomenon feels important, she said.
In 2019, the Brown family worked to create a 25th anniversary exhibit honoring Nicole at a museum that also houses the white Ford Bronco used in the police chase.
The 1993 Bronco is part of a true-crime display near Knoxville, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains that also includes the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle owned by serial killer Ted Bundy that played a role in his conviction.
Since December 2016, museum visitors have reacted to the Bronco on display.
"It is a where-were-you-when moment that everybody remembers," said Rachael Penman, director of artifacts and exhibits at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
"Millions of people were watching on TV, more than 95 million, and a lot were watching the NBA finals when they broke into the broadcast in 1994," she said. "There aren't a lot of moments like that anymore."
Penman didn't know what to make of the new Bronco being launched on July 9; Penman shares a birthday with O.J. Simpson.
The crime is part of pop culture history, she said. And listening to visitors talk about their memories of the time is sort of amazing, Penman said.
"We partnered with the Brown family," she said. "The exhibit included a lot of Nicole's belongings. As the place that has the Bronco, we were able to bring back attention to the victims and tell her story and the story of domestic abuse, which is a big part of the story that people don't remember."
Her earring, a dress
Tanya Brown became emotional displaying her sister's personal effects:
"Her daily dishes, her casual china that they used pretty much every day. A beaded dress she wore to an evening affair. I got her a pair of earrings for her birthday. I have one and she's buried with the other. A poem. Her jeans that were, like, a size 0 and her grungy sweatshirt she wore on a birthday when she was sick."
"We couldn't donate her organs. ... We couldn't even donate skin for skin grafts or veins. Anything dealing with Nicole, we were told, 'It's too high-profile of a case and we can't donate anything.' Nicole was the epitome of being fit. She ran 9 miles a day."
Releasing the new Ford Bronco on O.J.'s birthday doesn't sit right with Penman.
"It seems odd. It seems like an honor he doesn't deserve," she said. "And put the (murder) trial aside. He pleaded no contest" to domestic violence charges. Much of that police evidence was included in the museum exhibit.
As for the SUV itself, thinking of a National Football League Hall of Fame running back curled up in the backseat during a police chase seems unimaginable, Penman said. "Broncos are huge, if you look at them from the outside. But when you go inside, you feel so small and cramped. You think, 'O.J. was on the floor in the backseat. How did he fit?' "
Bringing back the Bronco, which was built between 1966-96, is a a major event.
Yet Mark Schirmer, a spokesman for Cox Automotive, can't forget the chase.
"I remember being at a tailgate party ahead of a Tigers game near Michigan and Trumbull when all that went down," Schirmer said Wednesday. "We missed the first few innings of the game, as we were listening to reports on the radio. And I seem to recall when we finally went into the stadium, the announcers were providing updates."
Some vehicles, he said, "are just part of our collective experience. Bronco, because of O.J., is certainly that."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Sister of Nicole Brown Simpson reacts to Ford Bronco release date