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, on April 25, Barber died from COVID-19.
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.
A junior at Lancaster High School, Barber 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:
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 Barber's life with a balloon release on May 1.
By that time, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had already begun to loosen business restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Restaurants, movie theaters, and malls were given permission to reopen on April 30.
Even some of Barber's classmates were enthusiastic about the reopening, Cartwright said. But, for her, Barber's death is a reminder that “it could happen to anybody” and it’s too soon to reopen.
“Just a few days after I lost my best friend, they’re opening up again,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s smart.”