We lost them to COVID-19

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They are loved ones, not statistics

Editor’s Note: This story is constantly updated with information on lost loved ones

By Erick Johnson

They were high ranking police officers and educators. One served in the Army. Another worked for NBC News. Another served the American Red Cross.

Today, their family, past and present co-workers and friends are mourning their deaths from COVID-19. They’re many more that look like them, but health departments across the country report only their ages and gender. But the Crusader researched and learned their identity by verifying news reports. The deadly virus that killed them has affected every race, culture and socioeconomic group. But Black lives and deaths matter and not enough attention is given to the disenfranchised during any crisis, including this one.

Hours after this story was posted, we found four more COVID-19 victims who are our brothers and sisters. It’s a sobering reminder of the challenges and sad realities of covering a global pandemic that’s claiming lives faster than the media can report.

We found 15 victims of color, some of whom excelled and made a deep impact on others in their careers. They lived productive lives in New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis and other great cities.

To prevent the spread of the virus, most of them were forced to die alone in hospital rooms. Away from their families and loved ones, they spent their final days battling a virus that has claimed over 23,000 lives worldwide.

They had underlying medical conditions, but they pushed through them and went on to successful lives. Two of them, Patricia Frieson and Carl Redd were from the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

Some were young in the prime of the careers. Others were retired citizens enjoying their golden years with the ones they loved.

Despite their sacrifice and impact, most of them will not get a fitting funeral or memorial service that reflects how they lived. COVID-19 is a cruel virus that separates victims from loved ones in both life and death. It’s pain that grieving loved ones will feel for years or even decades to come.

Nine of the 15 victims were men, reinforcing reports that say males are more likely to die from COVID-19 than females.

With the U.S. death toll now over 1,000, the dead are becoming more of a number than a human face with a life behind it.

Not Lenard Wells. He was a retired, high-ranking police officer who served on Milwaukee’s police force for nearly three decades. Many knew him as simply “Lenny.” He was 69 when he died.

For 27 years on the Milwaukee Police Department, Lenny worked tirelessly to bring racial equity as president of the League of Martin, an association for Black police officers.

When he began his law enforcement career in 1973, Wells was part of the first recruit class under a federally-mandated affirmative action program. Nine other minorities, including a woman, were among 65 people in his class who broke racial and gender barriers on the force, which like so many law enforcement agencies in big cities, have gone decades without reflecting the diverse populations in the cities they serve.

Lenny climbed the police ranks for nearly three decades, serving as an undercover officer, before continuing on to work in the Traffic Enforcement Division and later as a district shift commander and as a detective, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The newspaper reported that Wells mentored countless officers and helped them prepare for promotional exams. One colleague said Lenny wanted them to be “guardians, not warriors.” To many, Lenny was a leader, a trailblazer, a legend.

Judy Wilson-Griffin was a Black nurse who touch many lives at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in the greater St. Louis area. She was the first person in the St. Louis region to die from COVID-19.

A St. Louis County executive identified her only as a St. Louis County woman in announcing her death March 20. But her employer identified her in a statement, saying that she was a “beloved member of our family. Our hearts break for her family and friends and we will keep them in our prayers as we cope with the loss of our cherished colleague and friend.”

Lawrence Riley, a 66-year-old Navy veteran from Milwaukee died “alone” of the coronavirus on March 26. According to reports, his quarantined family was unable to see him. He died two days after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Riley was inspired to join the Navy by his father. Whitney Riley, 20, Lawrence’s only daughter, said in the New York Post that her father as the “sweetest man I’ve ever known.” She will graduate next year from Prairie View A&M University next year without her father in attendance.

Dez-Ann Romain in New York City was just 36 years old when she died. Her death woke up many who believed that COVID-19 was a virus that only killed senior citizens. She was a principal at Brooklyn Democracy Academy, a public high school in Brooklyn. She left behind an institution that deeply loved her for her boundless energy and her strong devotion to the school’s student body, especially its Black students.

“She looked at every single kid as her personal mission,” said her mentor, Courtney Winkfield in the New York Times.  “She knew every kid’s back story, their family members, what was going on with them and how to motivate them.”

Larry Edgeworth worked at NBC News at Rockefeller Center in New York for 25 years. He served most of those years as an audio technician. Edgeworth died March 19 after testing positive for COVID-19.  He worked in the technician room on the fifth floor, just three floors below the studio where the iconic Saturday Night Light Live show is taped.

But Edgeworth was a brother who enjoyed working behind the scenes. NBC News President Andrew Lack said that colleagues were fortunate to work with him over the years.

Carl Redd was a lifelong Chicagoan who lived in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. A retired HVAC repairman, in 1978 Redd enlisted in the Army. He served about six years before he was honorably discharged. Before he fell ill, Redd would get up early to take his grandson to school. He had been married for 35 years to his wife, Lillian, who reportedly while wearing a face mask, gloves and a gown, spoon-fed him during his battle with the virus.

Redd will be buried alongside military veterans at Abraham National Cemetery in Elwood. There won’t be any special military honors. Those activities have been suspended because of the virus.

Ron Hill, 63, was an athletics coach at a school in Fulton County, Georgia. He had seven children, 16 grandchildren and relationships with countless adoring students, according to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

Because he had the coronavirus, Wellstar North Fulton Hospital would not let his daughters near him. They were forced to say goodbye through a window.

According to reports, Hill grew up in Staunton, Virginia. At The Mount Vernon School in Sandy Springs, he mentored girls and boys and coached football, basketball and track. Many of his players loved him. One described him as a no-nonsense coach and teacher.

Hill was also a substitute teacher and filled in for an Advanced Placement language class.

Hours after this story posted, the Crusader learned that the Wanda Bailey, the older sister of Illinois’ first COVID-19 death, Patricia Frieson, had died from the virus more than a week later.

Her younger sister, Patricia Frieson died March 17.  Their family is planning a double funeral. Patricia was also longtime resident of Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. In news reports, Freison was described as a God-loving, devoted member of Progressive Beulah Pentecostal Church, where she sang with her sisters with a powerful voice.

As she battled COVID-19 Frieson posted this message on her Facebook page from the hospital.

“Until the good Lord calls Me away from this world to the next, I want to make it clear that I believe in Jesus Christ as the True Lord and Savior. Despite the fact that I am human, and I fail a lot of times, I believe that Jesus is the son of God, who was sacrificed on the cross, and died for our sins. He loves us dearly (far more than we deserve) and forgives our sins if we are in repentance. His Word says ‘who so ever believeth in Me, will be granted eternal life.”

Bassey Offiong, a senior majoring in chemical engineering at Western Michigan University, died March 28, just weeks before he was set to graduate. He was only 25 and had no known prior health issues, according to Detroit’s WXYZ reports.

Reports say Offiong had been refused tests many times while living off-campus in the Kalamazoo area despite having the COVID-19 symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue and a fever, his sister told the Detroit News.

Russell was a Pennsylvania native and graduate of Geneva College and received his master of divinity degree from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, acording to the Daily Memphian.

He once served as Geneva College’s financial aid director, college chaplain and church relations director, the newspaper reported.
Russell previously served as the Second Presbyterian’s assistant pastor of middle adults. He was also president of Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies and spent 2009 until 2012 as the headmaster of Westminster Academy – a classical Christian school in East Memphis.

Accoirding to the Daily Memphian, Russell also served as the head of Lexington Christian Academy – a college preparatory school in the Boston area.

On Tuesday, March 24, Marlowe Stoudamire, 43, a tireless advocate for Detroit, died from the coronavirus in the city he loved. Stoudamire reportedly had no underlying conditions.

When Detroit lost the bid for Amazon’s second headquarters and critics claimed the Motor City lacked talent, Stoudamire created Roster Detroit, which began as a series of social media posts he wrote to pay tribute to Detroiters who made positive contributions to the city. Roster Detroit grew into a digital platform that revealed and amplified the city’s talent.

Whenever Stoudamire promoted a new face for Roster Detroit on Facebook, he would sign off, “If you don’t know now you know… #DetroitHasTalent.”

Capt. Jonathan Parnell, known to many as  “Recon,” headed Detroit’s police Homicide Department. During his 31-year career, Parnell worked in homicide, sex crimes, child abuse and narcotics.


Detroit Police Chief James Craig said when Parnell was up for a promotion after taking the Lieutenant’s test. After passing the test and while being prepped for the promotion, Craig said Parnell’s team came to his office and asked not to promote Parnell because they loved him so much.

 

 

 

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