Jameela Dirrean Emoni Barber
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On the day coronavirus measures caused schools to close in Lancaster, Texas, on March 16, Jameela Dirrean Emoni Barber spent the day with friends shooting dance routines for TikTok and making prank calls to classmates.
Less than six weeks later, Barber died from COVID-19 on April 25.
The 17-year-old had no underlying health conditions, her mother, Jekena Barber-Brown, told BuzzFeed News in text messages.
Her friends said she’d texted them a few days before her death, saying she was in a lot of pain and had gone to the hospital. But the doctors gave her some medicine and sent her home.
Three days later, Barber went to take a shower after breakfast. The water was running for so long that her mother started to worry. Her sister found her unconscious in the bathroom. They tried CPR and called 911, but she never woke up.
“She was exceptional and I am very proud,” Barber-Brown said.
Look at the last girl face at the end😂🤣@jaydaannnn ##xyzbca ##fyp ##viralchallenge ##funny ##dance
A junior at Lancaster High School, Brown was formally inducted into the National Honors Society this week.
What friends remember most about her was her kindness. She was always glad to offer advice, help with homework, or show them the ropes in ROTC. She was an obvious leader, and she was picked to be first sergeant of ROTC. She wanted to go into the army, her friends told BuzzFeed News, but her mother said she recently was looking into college programs to study interior design.
Kennedi Dellums, who became friends with Barber four years ago when they met at the bus stop, said Barber insisted on staying by her bedside when Bellums had a baby in November. “I’m here for you sis and always will be,” Barber texted Bellums after. “Love you ❤️”
Barber also could be goofy, said Diana Rodriguez, who first met her in sixth-grade chorus. She’d sculpt her hair into ridiculous shapes for pictures, and she liked old-school prank calls like, “Your refrigerator’s running — better catch it!”
She loved to dance and was hooked on TikTok. This was the last one she posted, made with Rodriguez and another friend, Kaliyah Cartwright, on the day local schools closed:
😂🤣😂 ##fyp ##xyzbca
Cartwright said Barber was the first person to befriend her when she moved to Lancaster in eighth grade. “She was all I had for a long time,” said Cartwright.
She couldn’t believe it when she found out Barber had COVID-19. “You’d never expected it would happen to someone so close to us,” she said.
It’s unusual for someone Barber’s age to die from COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, just 48 people between the ages of 15 and 24 died from the virus from February to the beginning of May, a period in which 44,016 Americans died of the virus.
The cause of death, her mother told BuzzFeed News, was liver failure and blood clots — a complication doctors are finding common in COVID-19 patients.
Barber might have contracted the coronavirus from her older sister, who worked at a hospital — everyone in the house had tested positive. Then again, her mother said, she might have been exposed when she visited her father for Easter; he tested positive for coronavirus shortly after the visit.
Her family and friends honored Brown’s life with a balloon release on May 1.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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