Bre Payton, an up-and-coming writer and commentator considered a rising star in conservative media, died Friday after a sudden illness that had left her in a coma. Her friend Morgan Murtaugh, who had been the person to call 911, shared on social media on December 28 that Payton had died.
Breanna Claire Payton, 26, was a staff writer for the Federalist, a conservative online magazine based in Washington, D.C. She was recognized nationwide for appearances on networks including Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.
Payton had contracted H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu. In addition, her sister confirmed after her death that Payton had been diagnosed with meningitis. Her parents also shared online that Payton had encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain.
Payton’s parents have started a scholarship fund in her honor and are raising money on GoFundMe. The page says the scholarship is “in loving memory of Bre’s beautiful light, joyful spirit, hard-working ethics, and compassionate heart. This fund will go towards college scholarships to support other young, rising Christian leaders who share in Bre’s passion for truth, purpose, and life.” You can donate here.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Payton’s Friend Found Her Unconscious on December 27
Bre Payton fell ill in San Diego. Her friend, Morgan Murtaugh, shared what happened in a Twitter message earlier on December 28: “24 hours ago I found my friend unconscious and called 911. She’s been in a coma since and really needs a miracle right now. Please, if you’re religious at all, send prayers this way. We really need them.”
Murtaugh told emergency responders that Payton appeared to be barely breathing.
Payton was working the day before she got sick. She tweeted on December 26 that she was guest-hosting “Tipping Point” on One America News Network. The network is headquartered in San Diego.
Liz Wheeler, the regular host of “Tipping Point” shared a prayer for Payton on social media. She also wrote, “I can’t believe it. Bre was one of the funniest, smartest people in conservative politics today. Such an amazing laugh. My heart is broken. ?”
2. Doctors Say Payton Had the H1N1 Flu & Meningitis, According to Information Shared on a Caring Bridge Page for Payton
A page was launched for Payton on Caring Bridge to raise awareness about her diagnosis. It included the following information about her initial condition:
“Bre was taken to the hospital where she was admitted to the ICU, sedated & intubated, and doctors began working up a diagnosis. After a CT scan and hours of testing, they have determined she has the H1N1 flu and possibly meningitis. The doctors are concerned that her neurological signs are not great at this point and have informed us the next 24-48 hours are going to be critical for her.”
Payton’s sister later shared on the website that doctors confirmed Payton had contracted both meningitis and swine flu.
You can leave a message by visiting Payton’s page on Caring Bridge here.
It’s important to note the Caring Bridge page is not a fundraiser. Donations go to Caring Bridge, not the Payton family. Federalist co-founder Ben Domenech told Heavy that all they’re asking for is prayers for Payton and her family.
3. Payton’s Colleagues Took to Social Media to Express Their Sorrow at Her Passing
Bre Payton’s diagnosis was shared rapidly as her colleagues posted well-wishes on social media. At the news that Payton had passed away, Federalist’s co-founder Ben Domenech shared a recent photo of Payton. He wrote, “Bre has passed. We are devastated. Last we saw her, she was her funny, smart, vivacious self. Now lost to us so suddenly.”
The site’s other co-founder, Sean Davis, “We are devastated and heartbroken by the news of Bre Payton’s death today. She was kind, gentle, and joyful. Our only comfort is the knowledge that she is now peacefully resting in the arms of her Savior. We grieve her loss deeply, but rejoice in her eternal salvation in Christ.”
Federalist senior contributor Hans Fiene wrote, “My heart is broken. My friend is asleep in Jesus. May God bring us safely to the day when we hear Christ lift Bre up from the grave with the words ‘talitha, cumi.'”
Federalist contributor Kelsey Harkness wrote, “My podcast co-host. My Problematic Woman in crime. My birthday twin. My very dear friend. At just 26, @Bre_payton was youger than me, but felt more like my big sister. I am in complete shock that we lost this beautiful soul, and am comforted only by the faith she had in the Lord.”
Meghan McCain, Domenech’s wife, tweeted, “Ben and I are absolutely gutted and horrified by this news. Our prayers for @Bre_payton and her family. We are less without her – in every possible way. A wonderful, fearless, vibrant, intelligent young woman. Sending prayers to all of her family and friends during this darkness.”
Federalist senior contributor John Daniel Davidson wrote that “Bre was humble and willing to learn. She didn’t put on airs. She was charitable and generous. Those are rare qualities, esp in an industry like ours. People noticed that. Bre didn’t just stand out bc of her work. She stood out bc of who she was.” He added that the loss was devastating, describing the staff of the Federalist as a “nuclear family.”
Shannon Bream of Fox News shared this tribute: “I cannot believe this. @Bre_payton was such a beautiful light, smart and funny and kind and talented. Please pray for her broken hearted loved ones, who are undoubtedly reeling. She was far too young. ???”
Rachel Campos-Duffy of Fox News wrote that Payton had always delivered “smart analysis of politics & culture will be missed on @FoxNews & @foxandfriends. She delivered her conservative message with intelligence, good humor & a twinkle in her eye. Truly a conservative #HappyWarrior RIP.”
CBS News reporter Kathryn Watson wrote, “Writing through tears. Bre was the most beautiful soul to grace this world. She was loyal to her friends, faith, and convictions. I first met Bre when she was my intern years ago, and it has been a privilege to call her a dear friend. Heaven is brighter, but earth cries today.”
Fox News host Bret Baier offered condolences to Payton’s family on his program. That clip is embedded above.
The Federalist staff published a tribute to Payton. It reads in part:
“Bre brightened the lives of everyone around her. She was joyful, hard-working, and compassionate, and she leaves behind friends and colleagues for whom she brought nothing but sweetness and light.
Though we are heartbroken and devastated by Bre’s death, we are comforted in the knowledge that she was a woman who lived a life marked by deep Christian faith, trusting in her Savior, Jesus Christ – in the God who promises the way our story ends is that ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.'”
4. Bre Payton Began Reporting Professionally While Still a College Student
While still in school, Payton began writing for professional organizations. In 2012, she served as a freelance writer for World Magazine.
Payton began working for Watchdog.org in May of 2013 as a reporter, with a focus on government and politics. In 2014, she became a national education reporter for the site.
Payton also honed her social media skills while earning her college degree. She served as a Social Media Coordinator for Patrick Henry College in 2013. Payton explained on her Linkedin profile that she “managed all of PHC’s social media accounts and coordinated projects that engaged current and prospective students as well as the general public.” She also wrote articles about campus events.
Payton was a California native and went to Western Christian High school. A 2015 profile published on Patrick Henry College’s website described Payton as such: “She’s striking; her Valley Girl accent adds an unexpected tension to a dry sense of humor and she carries herself with Californian nonchalance. While she’s not always sure of herself, she’s always succeeded due to hard work and an appreciation for opportunities that come her way.”
Payton is survived by parents George and Cindy. She had four siblings: James, Jack, Christina, and Cheekie. Payton’s boyfriend, Ryan Colby, shared on social media before her death that he was trying to get to San Diego faster to be with her. Unfortunately, he was unable to get an earlier flight.
5. Payton Was Based in Washington, D.C. & Frequently Appeared on Camera
Bre Payton joined the Federalist as a staff writer in April 2015. In more than three years with the organization, she had the opportunity to show her range as a writer. Her staff bio stated that Payton had “written on subjects ranging from Kanye West to Supreme Court rulings, to 2016 and breaking news.” She was based in Washington, D.C.
In addition to being a writer, Payton frequently appeared on television. She had been a guest on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and the BBC. She also filled in as an anchor on One America News Network. Payton shared a photo on December 7 from behind the anchor guest, which you can see above. She filled in for Liz Wheeler on the program Tipping Point.