INDEPENDENCE, KS (KMOV) — Employees at the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office are mourning the loss of a friend and colleague, JoEllen Engelbart, who died from COVID-19 complications over the weekend. Engelbart gave birth to a boy, Ross Matthew, through a cesarean delivery last week before passing away.
Engelbart was born in Kansas City, Kansas and grew up in Raymore, Missouri. Her father, Thomas Flanagan Jr. says she always dreamed of pursuing a career in public service. Engelbart attended UMKC Law where she made an impression and formed strong relationships, including with her colleague, Hallie Williams.
“It was just something that the first time I met her , I knew we were going to be lifelong friends,” said Williams.
Married for nearly six years, Engelbart and her husband, Matt spent the past few months preparing for their first child, including recently setting up a nursery. Williams says she knew her friend was afraid of contracting coronavirus during the pandemic, especially after she found out she was pregnant.
“She made sure that she was doing everything that she could. You know we talked about it a lot, it was really scary.”
Engelbart tested positive for COVID-19 last month and was hospitalized days later. Her father says he was worried for her because even though she was only 32-years-old, she had asthma and a history of other potential comorbidities. Engelbart’s death shocked her family, friends, and coworkers on Saturday.
“To lose a person of her caliber is so gut-wrenching and so challenging for everyone. She was the most incredible being, the biggest personality, wildly intelligent, smart and witty, yet soft and kind. I think this should be not only a lesson to all of us to be more like JoEllen, to be better people, but to also make sure you wear a mask and wash your hands and make sure that we’re taking care of each other just as JoEllen would.” -Hallie Williams
“It was paralyzing. I mean I think it’s one of the most devastating losses that I think I’ve experienced in my life,” said Williams.
Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County Prosecutor, hired Engelbart after interning for the agency a few times. She says Engelbart was driven, an advocate, and always kind.
“You know I think that Jo probably gave that ultimate sacrifice to make sure that her little boy was safe. I know she fought for her own life as well,” Peters Baker said while getting emotional.
Engelbart worked as an advocate for victims of crime, especially children who were victims of sex crimes and abuse. Peters Baker says it’s the “toughest” role in the prosecutor’s office.
Family and friends are still working on the funeral arrangements. The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office is also working on a way to commemorate Engelbart’s legacy.
A GoFundMe account was created to help Engelbart’s family.
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