5-year-old coronavirus victim mourned at Detroit funeral

·4 min read

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (AP) — A handful of loved ones in a chapel on Detroit’s west side and hundreds of mourners participating online said goodbye Thursday to the daughter of a police officer and firefighter who is Michigan’s youngest victim in the coronavirus pandemic so far.

The reality of the public health crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Detroit residents was clear in the livestreamed service for 5-year-old Skylar Herbert.

Skylar died April 19 due to complications from the virus.

In other times, her family's church would have been packed with mourners bidding Skylar farewell. But only about a dozen family members could be seen in the first two pews at the James H. Cole funeral home. Social distancing guidelines prevented more from attending, and each mourner wore a mask, as did funeral home staff, the pastor and the line of flower bearers.

It’s become the new normal across the U.S. and around the world. Funeral services and burials have become smaller and more intimate to prevent the spread of the virus. Funerals have been delayed and some cemeteries aren’t allowing graveside services.

About 800 people viewed the livestream of Skylar's funeral as the eulogy was read. Two video screens played a montage of photos of the girl and her family to gospel music. A bouquet of pink flowers spelled out her name.

“It doesn’t get no harder than this,” said the Rev. Kevin Earley, pastor of the Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit. “I will miss my Skylar. In just five years ... she gave a lifetime of love.”

Earley said he performed Skylar's parents’ wedding, and that the family attends the church.

A week before the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan, Earley told congregants he had accepted a pastor’s job in Atlanta. And Skylar's response touched him.

“She was too young to really understand the announcement, so she came up to me” he said Thursday. "The thought came to my mind ‘I won’t get to see her grow up.’ Who knew? Who knew?”

After Skylar's death, Mayor Mike Duggan called her “a real daughter of the city of Detroit.” Skylar’s mother, LaVondria Herbert, has been a Detroit police officer for 25 years, and Skylar’s father, Ebbie, a firefighter of 18 years.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer paid tribute to the family last week.

“They’ve been on the frontline and they’ve served with honor and integrity,” Whitmer said. “They did not deserve to lose their child to this virus. Nobody does.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.

Coronavirus infections leading to death are unusual among children.

Skylar was African American. Early data by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that 30% of patients who died from the virus whose race was known were black.

Health conditions that exist at higher rates in the black community — obesity, diabetes and asthma — make African Americans more susceptible to the virus, according to health officials. They also are more likely to be uninsured, and often report that medical professionals take their ailments less seriously when they seek treatment.

In March, Whitmer ordered Michigan residents to stay home, banned large gatherings and closed schools to slow the spread of the virus.

As of Thursday, the coronavirus, had infected more than 40,000 Michigan residents and contributed to the deaths of 3,670. Nationally, 1 million people are confirmed to have the disease and more than 61,000 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.

Earley didn’t mention COVID-19 much, but the specter of it filled the mostly empty chapel.

“I believe she’s in heaven,” he said of Skylar. “I believe she’s with the Lord. But right now, this mess hurts.

“Dying is but a pathway “into the paradise where there’ll be no more death, there’ll be no more crying, there’ll be no more COVID-19, there’ll be no more sickle cell, there’ll be no more diabetes,” he said.