NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jaquan Anderson, a 17-year-old from New Orleans, was getting ready for his senior year in high school and all the milestones that mark the beginning of adulthood — getting his driver’s license, voting and heading to college.
“He was so ready for this year. He was so ready,” said his mother Rontunda Moran, sitting in her apartment with her husband Kevin Moran, both wearing T-shirts bearing Jaquan’s face.
Nearby are life-size photos of Jaquan flashing what Kevin Moran called the “million dollar smile” that he loved so much. On Rontunda’s side on the couch is a box where she has stashed reminders of her son — photos, his cellphone and a handwritten note she found in his wallet detailing some of his future plans.
Jaquan died March 22, one of the youngest victims of the coronavirus that has largely taken the lives of older people. Unbeknownst to his family, Jaquan had an enlarged heart that made him more susceptible to the virus.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of stories remembering people who have died from the coronavirus around the world.
Jaquan was known to friends and family simply as “Quan.” Kevin Moran is not his biological father but has been close part of Jaquan’s life since he was a year old.
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the family fled their house when the water rose and sought shelter at the Superdome. Jaquan was still a baby and didn’t remember what it was like, but Moran remembers holding Jaquan in his arms.
Eventually the family evacuated to Houston, where they remained for about five years before returning to New Orleans.
As a junior at Sophie B. Wright High School, Jaquan played cornerback on the football team. His mother said he was devoted member of the team and paid attention to things like eating healthy so he could improve as a player. He was hoping to play football in college but was also making plans in case football didn’t work out.
Kevin Moran said he found Jaquan on the phone one day talking to a U.S. military recruiter and asked the teenager why.
“He said, ’Dad, because football might not work… so I’m going to have another outlet in case that don’t work.’ And I just told him how proud of him I was,” Moran said.
Moran also recalled a day when he was getting ready to go vote. Jaquan was 16 and wanted to come along. Moran showed him the voting booth, talked with him about who he was voting for and let him wear the “I Voted” sticker when they were done.
“He was really looking forward to being able to vote,” Moran said.
Jamaal Weathersby, the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in New Orleans and a godparent to Jaquan, said Jaquan routinely brought his report card to show Weathersby his grades. When the school started emailing grades, Jaquan would pull them up on his phone to show the pastor. He would sometimes bring friends to church, and when he came to service he always went to the front of the church to seek out the pastor.
“He had a smile that would light up a room. He just always had that smile,” Weathersby recalled.
Some teenagers are embarrassed about telling their parents they love them, but not Jaquan. Rontunda said he would often tell her he loved her for no reason — just because.
He also took great pride in his father’s membership in one of the city’s social aid and pleasure groups — an institution particular to New Orleans where members gather on a Sunday during the year in specially made suits and walk through the neighborhood. Called a second line, it’s essentially a party with a brass band where members, family and friends parade through the streets, often stopping at bars or restaurants along the way.
Kevin Moran is a member of the New Orleans Original Men’s Buckjumpers, and Jaquan would usually coordinate his outfit so he could match the colors in his father’s more elaborate suit. One year it was pouring rain during the parade but Jaquan stayed for the whole thing, his mother said.
“Jaquan could not miss a second line. He’d have to be there every year,” she said. “Everybody had to know that his daddy was a member of Jumper.”
In the days before Jaquan died, he hadn’t been feeling well and had a headache. He was upstairs while his father fixed him something to eat when the teenager called out. Moran hurried up the stairs and at the top, Jaquan collapsed into his arms. Rontunda works at a nearby hospital and made it home within minutes. Paramedics were there when she arrived.
Hoping that Jaquan might still be able to hear her, she held his hand and spoke to her son.
“I told him, ‘I’m here. You’re not by yourself.’ I said we all love you,” she said. “He knew everybody loved him. He knew that.”
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