At just 8 years old, Deaurra Nealy wanted to connect with people online.
“She was always on her TikTok,” said her father, Dearick Nealy, recounting videos Deaurra posted on the social media platform and her hope of becoming an influencer.
This week, people in far-flung Florida communities were connected by sorrow when they learned the Jacksonville second-grade student had died after showing symptoms of an inflammatory syndrome tied to COVID-19.
“I’d never heard of this syndrome before she became sick,” said Nealy, 31.
Deaurra, nicknamed Aurri, had tested negative for the coronavirus, but Nealy said a subsequent test suggested she had been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies despite never showing symptoms of infection.
What she developed, instead, seemed at first like just a stomach ache, said Nealy, who said Deaurra was raised alternately at his home in Central Florida’s Polk County and in the Jacksonville home of her mother, Tifarrah Alford.
The little girl spent summers and holiday breaks with her father, then returned to her mother’s home and classes at Twin Lakes Academy Elementary School.
“She would brighten up the room when she walked in,” Nealy said. “… She was full of life.”
Citing confidentiality rules, Duval County school officials wouldn’t say Tuesday whether Deaurra was a Twin Lakes student, and wouldn’t say whether a Twin Lakes student had died. The school system’s COVID-19 dashboard reflects one case since August involving a Twin Lakes student and one involving a staff member, although it’s not clear when either of those occurred.
But a Winter Haven funeral home confirmed it was handling services for Deaurra and an account on the online fundraising site GoFundMe reported her death as it asked for donations to cover funeral costs. A GoFundMe spokeswoman said site staff had confirmed that fundraising appeal was legitimate.
About $7,000 had been raised by Wednesday, and the appeal had been shared about 1,300 times.
“I have kids and it could have been my child,” wrote one donor.
An organizer for the fundraiser, Tasha Forbes, was touched by the response, writing: “Thank you all … [W]e see how Aurrie’s story and short life here on earth touched so many. God bless you all!”
Nealy said his daughter died just after midnight Saturday at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, where she had been admitted late Jan. 13 with symptoms — a rash and a persistent fever — matching the affliction known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. The syndrome is rare, but can be serious, with the potential for swelling of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or other organs.