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Friends, family remember Dar’yana Dyson, 15, whose death Baltimore County officials say is linked to coronavirus

Dar’yana Dyson was the life of the party. She heaped love on her younger siblings and posted videos laughing and dancing with them in the kitchen on Instagram and Tik Tok. She wanted a car for her 16th birthday next month and hoped to celebrate the occasion in Ocean City with family.

The Milford Mill Academy student died Saturday, less than a week after going to the hospital for a severe stomachache, said Kandice Knight, her mother. Her case was the county’s first pediatric death associated with the coronavirus, according to Baltimore County officials.

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Dozens of friends and family members brought candles and helium balloons to a vigil for Dar’yana at the O’Donnell Heights public housing complex in Southeast Baltimore on Wednesday. Many wore masks and greeted one another with elbow bumps instead of hugs or handshakes. A deejay played hip-hop music that friends and family said would’ve had her egging them all on to dance in the parking lot.

“Trust me, she’s out here dancing right now," her mother said. “She would be the one trying to get everybody to dance with her. ... The only thing that’s keeping me going is everybody out here.”

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Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital tested Dar’yana three or four times for COVID-19 before her death, “and they said she did not have it," Knight said.

Knight doesn’t know what to think.

“They told me they suspect it is,” she said. “They never confirmed if that’s what it is.”

Friends and family at the vigil described Dar’yana as a force of energy who loved music and cared deeply for her loved ones, a leader who set an example for younger girls without older sisters — and one of the most fun people you could ever meet.

Dayia Lynn, a 19-year-old cousin, loved the way Dar’yana used to greet her: shouting at top volume and announcing that the party had begun.

“COUSIIIN!!!” Lynn hollered, doing her best impersonation. “WE REY DRAG!”

Stephanie Elder, a 29-year-old aunt, said Dar’yana “was obsessed” with her sisters and could often be found going live on Instagram or dancing with them on Tik Tok. Dar’yana’s sister captioned a recent post, “My dancing partner.”

Before her hospitalization, the family had hoped the coronavirus pandemic would subside in time for them to take a trip to Ocean City for her 16th birthday, said Raynah Stern, 26, her mother’s cousin.

The teenager called her auntie earlier this month to ask whether she would drive them, she said.

“She was ready to go and have a ball," Stern said. “We thought [the pandemic] was going to be over before the summer comes.”

Dar’yana’s friends Justice Talley, Wynter Holmes and Andrea Henry laughed as they recalled their favorite memories of her — like the way she would dance to the music of her favorite rapper, Big 6ixx.

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The 15-year-old’s death was a shock to all of them.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Holmes, 16.

“There wasn’t no party without her,” said Aliciana Pinkney, a 14-year-old friend.

Noah Crawford, who was a few years above Dar’yana at Milford Mill, called her “a good soul” and “a bright spot in people’s lives.”

Dar’yana told Crawford she was proud of his plans to join the Marine Corps, he said. He leaves for boot camp in September.

“She was beyond her years,” the 18-year-old said. “She might’ve been 15, but you would’ve thought she was about to graduate.”

The teenager’s death served as a stark reminder of the seriousness of COVID-19 to many in Baltimore.

“A lot of people wasn’t taking it serious,” Pinkney said. “I didn’t wanna wear my mask. ... But I need to protect myself.”

Kidd Ray Perry, a 40-year-old whose daughters grew up with Dar’yana, remembered her as a leader whom all the other girls in the neighborhood emulated. Perry prints T-shirts, but he couldn’t bring himself to put her picture and birth and death dates on one.

The former coronavirus skeptic bought a box of face masks and was passing them out at the vigil.

“I was not a big believer,” he said. “But when it’s somebody who had a bright future ahead of her, to see her gone so early, I’m lost for words."

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