DC’s first coronavirus victim was a longtime friar, friends say

59-year-old John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond was DC's first victim of coronavirus, friends say.

The Superior Father of the Franciscan Monastery in Northeast D.C. tells FOX 5 they are still trying to wrap their heads around the death of a long-time friar, who is also now the District’s first Coronavirus victim.

“For us to discover, of all people it was Brother Sebastian, that really has hit us very, very hard. It’s been a shock we’ve hardly got our heads around because again the years up until September, he was the central person here on the day-to-day operations,” Superior Father Larry Dunham told FOX 5 DC of 59-year-old Bro. John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond.


Fr. Dunham said the 59-year-old Friar joined the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, located in Northeast Washington D.C., in 1985. He ran operations for around 15-years. We’re also told he handled the Good Friday collection, a collection taken-up in all Catholic churches throughout the world. The money goes toward supporting their work in the Holy Land.

Fr. Dunham said in September 2019, Bro. Sebastian had decided to take a leave of absence before starting a new assignment in New York. The leave was to address his chronic Leukemia.

“He just returned from Jacksonville, Florida MD Anderson in early February and probably, I thought, the best shape that he had been. It was therefore a huge surprise when he texted me that he was at George Washington University Hospital this past week. I think it was probably on Sunday or Monday,” said Fr. Dunham.

While in the hospital, Fr. Dunham said Bro. Sebastian had sent him a picture showing his temperature at 103.5 degrees. Then on Friday, came the Mayor’s announcement of DC’s first Coronavirus death. Brother Sebastian was not named. Only his age was given.

From Illinois, the Franciscan Friar was described as “full of energy” and a “larger than life presence” at the monastery. He was well known for helping those in need.

Fr. Dunham says Bro. Sebastian hadn’t been to the Northeast D.C. Monastery since his going away party last October, but that his presence will always be felt.

“There are victims everywhere and now we get it. I mean, we really get it. And we hope that everyone starts to really get it. We just, I think we have a new sensitivity towards this and what people are going through, who are not only just suffering from the disease itself but whose jobs have been up-ended, whose lives have been turned topsy-turvy. I’m thinking of all those little people that Brother Sebastian advocated for,” said Fr. Dunham, calling on everyone to take Coronavirus seriously.

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“That has brought us all together, but once it lands in your home and in your family, it changes you and makes you really think about others a lot more,” he added.

FOX 5 was told there will be an autopsy and that Bro. Sebastian will be cremated. The Monastery plans to hold a special service when everyone is allowed to gather again. He leaves behind a mother and siblings.

“We are grateful for condolences,” part of a tweet from the Monastery read on Sunday.