When Kim Devins first heard that Brandon Clark, the 21-year-old man accused of killing her 17-year-old daughter, Bianca and posting a photo of her body on Discord, was going to plead guilty to second-degree murder charges, there was only one word for her to describe how she felt: “relieved.” “It was bad enough what we had to sit through in court, the details we had to hear,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I can’t imagine sitting through a trial and having to go through that.”
What Devins was referring to was evidence that had not previously been confirmed by authorities, which would have been presented at Clark’s trial: video footage of Bianca’s murder that Clark had taken on his cell phone from the dashboard of his car. Its contents, as described by Devins and Lt. Bryan Coromato of the Utica, New York, police department, shed light on Bianca’s final moments, as well as what prosecutors believe to be one of Clark’s motives for the crime: that he took her life in part because he was incensed she would not agree to a monogamous relationship with him.
Earlier this week, Clark pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges, mere weeks before he was set to stand trial. In his statement in front of the court, Clark expressed remorse for his crimes. “I think I need to realize what I did I can’t undo, as much as I want to,” he said. “I apologize to all the people that knew and loved her. I apologize to everybody affected by this, to everybody who had to see that horrific picture of her. I know sorry is not enough, and it won’t take back what I did. I wish I had more to give.”
As part of his plea deal, Clark spoke in court about the footage of Bianca’s murder. In the footage, as described by Lt. Coromato, Bianca is seen sleeping in the backseat of Clark’s car when Clark wakes her up to have a discussion about an incident he had witnessed earlier, in which he saw Bianca kissing another boy at a Nicole Dollanganger concert in Queens, New York. Bianca apologizes, but reminds Clark that they are not monogamous, and “basically makes it clear they’re not together,” Coromato says. Devins confirmed this with Rolling Stone, saying that she had had multiple conversations with Bianca about the nature of her relationship with Clark. “She knew he wanted more but Bianca just thought he was OK with being friends, and he never seemed to make a big deal about it,” Devins says. “He was very, very good at masking who he really was.”
Clark, however, responds that her answer is not good enough, and is then seen striking her, prompting Bianca to threaten to get out of the car and walk home if Clark does not bring her home. At this point, Clark attacks her with a knife he had retrieved from his trunk and was hiding by the seat. “I was told [that] he really caught her off guard,” says Devins, who has not seen the video but heard of its contents early on in the investigation. “She had no clue what was coming. She had no time to fight or defend herself, with no warning.” Clark then proceeded to videotape Bianca taking her last breaths before taking photos of her body and posting them to social media.
In the hours immediately following Bianca’s death, false rumors circulated that Clark had uploaded the footage to social media (some Instagram accounts even popped up promising to post the footage in exchange for followers). Yet prior to Clark’s court appearance, the existence of the footage had not been publicly confirmed by authorities.
“It’s really the ultimate action of having control,” Maureen Curtis, vice president of criminal-justice programs at Safe Horizon, says of Clark’s decision to videotape the murder and post a photo on social media. “It’s saying, ‘I have control. I’m going to show you I have control here. I’ll kill you, and then I’ll videotape you and show it to others so they’ll see what control I have over you.’ It’s not just hurting her by killing her, but hurting the people who love her.”
Previously, there had been some doubt as to whether Clark had planned to murder Bianca, or if he had acted in a fit of rage following the concert. In prison letters to crime vlogger Antimone Layne, Clark appeared to hedge his bets by implying that he had completely blacked out and forgotten details of her death, thus theoretically opening up the possibility of a temporary insanity defense. Yet the revelation of the footage of Bianca’s death casts significant doubt on such claims.
In his court appearance, Clark also confirmed that he had a checklist on his phone of what he planned to do the day of the murder, including changing his Instagram bio to display his date of death and posting the Fight Club quote “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” He was also questioned about his internet history, including searches for how to find the carotid artery or how to incapacitate someone.
All of this evidence, Devins believes, paints a portrait of premeditation. “I don’t think there’s anything Bianca could’ve said or done to prevent this in that moment,” she says. “He clearly had this all planned out in his mind.”
Clark’s search history also implied that he had harbored an obsession with Bianca, whom he had met in person just a few months earlier, searching her name and checking her social media platforms frequently and saving photos of her. Devins told Rolling Stone that Clark also got a tattoo of a playground swing, one of Bianca’s favorite things, onto his leg a week after they had met, and had flaunted it at her high school graduation party.
Although there is no evidence that Clark was abusive toward Bianca prior to killing her, such actions would be consistent with an obsession with gaining power over another person, says Curtis. “We know when there is a homicide, there is often some type of abusive behavior that does not necessarily fall under the criminal-justice radar,” such as exercising coercive control, she says. “Even family members may not recognize this behavior as abusive. They may see obsession or jealousy and write it off, or see it as a form of love.”
There are those who believe that Clark’s expression of remorse is genuine, such as Clark’s mother, Michelle, who told Rolling Stone that Clark pleaded out to spare the Devins family the trauma of “see[ing] the footage of him killing her.” She believes that Clark is truly remorseful, and that he is not the “manipulative monster” the prosecution has purported him to be, believing that his Google searches related to his plans to take his own life, rather than plans to take Bianca’s.
Both Coromato and Bianca’s mother, however, strongly dispute this. They believe that Clark simply did not want to have the footage shown in court because it was too damning to provide him with any chance of a lighter sentence than the one he might receive from a plea. “My personal opinion is it’s more or less self-preservation,” he says. “He’s trying to get more of his story out there, and [the video] would not benefit him in that regard.”
“He literally videotaped taking my daughter’s last breaths, and it shows how premeditated it was as well,” Devins says. “He’s portrayed for the monster he is, and he does not want people to see that.”
With Clark’s guilty plea, he now faces 25 years to life in prison. He will be sentenced in April. Coromato believes that the plea was “the best possible outcome” of the horrific case, saying that it spared not just the Devins family from having to sit through the “gruesome and horrific” evidence, but also Clark’s own family members, who have cooperated with the investigation, from potentially testifying against him. (Clark had contacted numerous family members, including his grandmother, following Bianca’s murder and before live-streaming his own attempted suicide.)
Clark’s childhood had been marked by instability following his father’s incarceration after he held Clark’s mother at knifepoint for hours when Clark was 10. Yet Clark was also, by the accounts of those who knew him, affable and charming — far from the type of person one would expect to commit such an act. “He was a good kid,” says Brandon’s mother. “It came out of nowhere. It’s surreal. I think about him all day long. I have nightmares about him.” She sent to Rolling Stone a nine-second video via Facebook Messenger of Clark in socks, shorts, and a beanie cap, dancing to upbeat pop music with his younger brother, James. “It is so hard to relate the kid in this video to what he did,” she says.
Kim Devins does not fault his family for being unable to see that he was capable of such horrors. She met Brandon Clark a few times prior to Bianca’s death, and found him polite and well-spoken, trusting him enough to allow Bianca’s 15-year-old sister to accompany them when they hung out. “People are always asking me what advice you would give to other parents, and I don’t have any because he was so meticulous and good about hiding who he was,” she says. “His own family can’t figure out how this goofy, nerdy, funny boy they raised turned into a monster. So if his own family didn’t see anything scary, how could we? That’s the scariest part of this.”
Now that the legal proceedings against Clark are effectively almost over, Devins is left to try to make sense of the loss of her daughter. With Congressman Anthony Brindisi, she has rallied for increased monitoring of social media platforms such as Instagram, which was heavily criticized for failing to curb the spread of the photo of Bianca’s dead body. (In response, Instagram told Brindisi this week it would give users the option to automatically block private messages from strangers.)
As recently as October, on what would have been Bianca’s birthday, Devins says that Bianca’s stepfather received the picture in his DMs, with a birthday hat Photoshopped onto Bianca’s head. “That should have been caught,” Devins says. “These big companies need to be held accountable, and they need to have consequences for not policing their own platforms.”
On Saturday, Devins will host the Bee Gala in Bianca’s hometown of Utica, the proceeds of which will go toward a scholarship in Bianca’s name for students pursuing psychology degrees. Bianca had long struggled with borderline personality disorder, and had planned to attend community college that fall to help adolescents with mental illness.
It has been helpful, she says, to channel her grief into something constructive. But the days are still long, and the wounds caused by the loss of her daughter impossibly slow to heal. “I don’t even know what I do half the time,” Devins says. “I’m just kinda so shut down. At this point, I’m just trying to figure out how to survive.”
She texts every day with a medium who has passed on messages from Bianca, which she says she has found helpful. And she thinks often of Bianca’s final moments, of her asking Clark to take her back to her house, just a few minutes away from the back seat of the car, where she took her final breaths. She wonders why Bianca didn’t just get out and start walking. She wonders why Bianca didn’t call her. But mostly, she thinks about how all Bianca wanted was to come home.
In the darkest days of Bianca’s struggles with depression, Devins says she often told Bianca to keep fighting — if not for herself, then for her mother, for her family.
“She promised she’d never leave me, and she kept that promise,” Devins says. “She has always kept that promise.”