Facebook Live was Keiana Herndon’s personal reality show. Almost every day, she would broadcast her singing voice, the minutiae of her life and images of her two children to the phones of family and friends.
But she’d managed to keep one thing secret.
It was 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 28, midway between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Herndon, of Camden, Ark., was at a friend’s house, along with her youngest son, Rylee. Herndon launched Facebook and tapped the button to go live.
She mouthed the words to a song playing in the background and responded to some of her friends’ comments. She pivoted the camera to her 1-year-old, who used a coffee table to balance on chubby toddler legs as he sucked a pacifier.
Then, Herndon started to sweat.
As many as 20 friends were watching as she wiped beads of sweat from her brow, her uncle Jeffery Herndon told The Washington Post.
“Then maybe seven or eight minutes into the video, she passed out,” he said. “The phone fell on the floor.”
At one point, the toddler picked up the phone, oblivious to his mother’s final moments.
“[Rylee] picked the phone up and started talking and playing and then I hear (gasping) then I heard one more … I didn’t hear nothing else,” Keiana Herndon’s mother, Barbara Johnson, told Little Rock ABC-affiliate KATV. Johnson and other family members viewed the post hours after it was live.
Ultimately, Keiana Herndon’s unresponsiveness upset her toddler.
“You can’t see nothing because the phone is black. . . . Then the baby starts crying. He’s crying and crying and crying,” Herndon’s uncle said.
All the while, the number of people watching the video ticked up. But no one called police, Jeffrey Herndon said, and no one went to check on the dying woman.
Herndon had been battling a thyroid condition for years, her uncle said. It was a secret that only her family and closest friends knew.
The condition made her heart race, spiked her blood pressure and raised her body temperature.
Around Thanksgiving, it landed her in the hospital. Jeffery Herndon remembered the family racing to the emergency room.
“She told us it felt like her heart was about to jump out of her chest,” Jeffery Herndon said. “I ain’t never seen her cry — she was a strong woman to be just 25 years old — but she cried then.”
Doctors managed to stabilize her in 90 minutes, but they also delivered grim news: Her thyroid condition was cancer. And it was getting worse.
A few weeks ago, she’d undergone radiation therapy to kill the cancer cells, her uncle said. In a few weeks, she was going to have surgery.
She was scared, her uncle said, but she appeared buoyant as she talked to her friends on Facebook Live last week.
Her uncle wishes they would have done more.
“How do you just sit there, especially after she passed out,” he said. “And you hear the baby crying. I don’t see how people want to sit and watch a person take her last breath in front of her child, and then share the video of a child watching his mother die.”
He added: “To watch your mother take her last breath and these people getting kicks out of it, thrills out of it. It’s just tragic.”
About half an hour after the video started, the friend who lived at the apartment came home and found Keiana Herndon passed out on the floor, the baby still crying.
The friend called 911, but it was too late. Keiana Herndon was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Camden, Ark., police didn’t hear about Keiana Herndon’s death until “after she was at the hospital,” Capt. John Voss, who oversees criminal investigations, told The Post. No one called police during her Facebook Live recording.
As they planned to bury Keiana Herndon, her family said they were upset by how aloof or even callous people can be on social media.
The family has started a GoFundMe to defray funeral expenses and help provide for her two children.
“Her son was a witness to the passing of his mother along with the eyes of Facebook,” the page says. “To know Keiana was to love her.”