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Franciscan Monastery says member is D.C.’s first known coronavirus death

John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, 59, was the District’s first known death of the coronavirus.
John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, 59, was the District’s first known death of the coronavirus. (Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America)

A member of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America is the first person to die of the novel coronavirus in the District, the monastery’s superior, Father Larry Dunham, confirmed Saturday.

John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, 59, had been at the monastery since the late 1980s and had for the last 14 years run its day-to-day operations as the business manager, Dunham said. He had recently been approved for a transfer to an order in New York, where he was going to be involved in fundraising efforts for missions in Central America, Dunham added.

“It was going to be like a whole new focus and life for him,” he said. “That was to be his new assignment that never quite materialized.”

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced the news of the first death on Friday, but did not identify Laird-Hammond by name.

D.C. officials said the person was admitted to a hospital last week with fever and cough and may have had contact with a previous patient.

As of Saturday evening, there were 426 reported cases in the District, Maryland and Virginia. There have been two deaths in Maryland related to the coronavirus, both men in their 60s with underlying medical conditions, and three deaths in Virginia, including two men in their 70s.

Officials have closed schools and restaurants across the region and banned large gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. The number of cases in the region has roughly doubled every 48 hours.

Dunham said that Laird-Hammond had battled leukemia for several years. A few days ago, he said Laird-Hammond sent him a picture of a thermometer showing his temperature: 103.5 degrees.

He said that Laird-Hammond often battled nausea after his treatments for leukemia but had seemed in February to be in some of the best health Dunham had seen him in for years. He said he grew worried about a coronavirus diagnosis when he heard Laird-Hammond had been hospitalized and was shocked when he saw the picture of the thermometer.

“My knees started to buckle,” Dunham said. “I said, ‘please try to get better.’ . . . He always recovers. He always finds a way. But he didn’t find a way. That’s what I’m really trying to get my head around.”

In addition to managing the day-to-day business operations of the monastery, Laird-Hammond was also in charge of collecting Good Friday donations that came in from around the country, Dunham said. He said Laird-Hammond was from Minonk, Ill.

Throughout his career, Laird-Hammond was a hard and energetic worker who never complained about his own health problems and instead always “looked out for the little guys, the people who would fall through the cracks,” Dunham said.

He helped find housing for people who needed it, made sure food baskets were delivered to families that were struggling on Christmas and once found a dentist for a construction worker who was missing his front teeth, Dunham said.

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