A 59-year-old Franciscan friar at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Northeast D.C. was the first person to die in the city of the novel coronavirus, the monastery confirmed to News4.
Brother John Sebastian Laird-Hammond was a central figure at the monastery in D.C.'s Brookland neighborhood.
He advocated for the poor and marginalized, while handling day-to-day administrative duties, Father Larry Dunham said.
"It's been a shock we've hardly gotten our heads around," Dunham said.
Dunham says Laird-Hammond left the monastery last September after a leukemia flare-up. He had suffered from the cancer for years.
He was also preparing for a new assignment in New York.
"He decided before he moved on to his new assignment that he wanted a small leave of absence," Dunham said.
Laird-Hammond's last time at the monastery was for a farewell party in October.
"He was probably in as best a shape as I knew that he had been," Dunham said.
Friar Dunham says he kept in contact with Laird-Hammomd via social media and he'd gotten a text from him last week saying that he was hospitalized with a fever and respiratory issues.
A subsequent, responding text went unanswered. It was then that he'd learned of Laird-Hammond's death.
"Once it lands in your home and in your family, it changes you," Dunham said.
"Victims are everywhere. We need to be paying more attention to this, the government needs to be doing as much as it can, and everyone needs to be doing as much as they can."
A 65-year-old woman was the second person in D.C. to die from the virus on Saturday night, officials said. As of Sunday evening, there were 98 cases of coronavirus in D.C.