Fort Worth

Former Marine From Fort Worth, 3 Close to Him, Die of Coronavirus Within 19 Days

Survivors include man's daughter, two other family members who tested positive for antibodies

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Priscilla Littles lost her father to the coronavirus last month, then his girlfriend, then his girlfriend’s mother. And then Littles’ brother-in-law.

“In the span of 19 days, four people died,” said Littles, an assistant principal at Bruce Shulkey Elementary School in Fort Worth. “It’s been a lot. It’s been so much.”

Littles said her father, Marlin Shackleford, was healthy overall and had just celebrated his 79th birthday on March 1.

Shackleford, an avid saxophone player known simply as “Shack,” joined the Marines a year after high school in 1960 and took a job as a janitor at Bell Textron six years later.

Marlin Shackleford
Family photo
Marlin Shackleford

While working at the helicopter company, he attended Texas Christian University and graduated with a degree in computer science in 1977. Then he changed jobs to computer analyst before retiring in 2012.

“My dad was my hero,” Littles said.

‘I’ve Never Seen My Dad Sick’
One day early last month, Shackleford lost his appetite.

“It hit him all the sudden,” Littles said. “I’ve never seen my dad sick, ever.”

And then he lost his strength, she said.

“I fed him,” she recalled. “He could sit up, but had no strength to put food in his mouth.”

He tried to recuperate at home, but his condition worsened.

When family members took him to Texas Health Harris Methodist Southwest Hospital on April 3, he was diagnosed with kidney and liver failure. They learned a day later that a coronavirus test he had taken earlier was positive.

Doctors put him on a ventilator to help him breathe.

He never regained consciousness and died six days later, his daughter said.

Marlin Shackleford was buried at DFW National Cemetery, but family members had to watch from their cars due to COVID-19.
Family photo
Marlin Shackleford was buried at DFW National Cemetery, but family members had to watch from their cars due to COVID-19.

He was buried at DFW National Cemetery, but without military honors or the traditional playing of taps because of the virus.

Family members had to watch the burial from a distance from their cars.

“They cover it with dirt and they’re done,” Littles said.

She said the family would try to arrange a proper funeral in the future.

‘We’re Just in Shock’
On April 12, just three days after Shackleford died, his girlfriend Glenda Thompson, 79, also passed away. She had been admitted to the hospital before him, Littles said.

Six days later, Thompson’s mother Dorthiel Ladd-Smith, 93, also died of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Littles’ sister and her sister’s husband tested positive for COVID-19.

Her sister survived. Her brother-in-law, Rev. Jason D. West Sr., 58, didn’t.

He was a pastor at New Creation Baptist Church.

“We’re just in shock still, to know that this thing has hit Fort Worth and hit our community,” Littles said. “It’s been heartbreaking.”

Family photo
Left: Shackleford's girlfriend Glenda Thompson, left, and her mother Dorthiel Ladd-Smith, right. Right: Shackleford, seated, with his son-in-law, Jason D. West, standing.

Positive for Antibodies
Even though they never experienced any symptoms, Littles said she and her daughter wondered if they had somehow been exposed, so they got tested in late April for COVID-19 antibodies.

“It was for peace of mind,” she said.

They tested positive, meaning they also had had the disease and never knew it.

They plan to donate their plasma to help others who are sick.

Ironically, she said, they may have been able to give plasma to her father, but had no idea it was possible at the time.

“We had it and didn’t even know it,” she said.

‘I Don’t Think It’s Safe to be Out and About’
Littles said as Texas and other states open up, she will stay at home except when absolutely necessary.

“I get that people need to survive and it’s essential to some of them to open, but it’s dangerous to me,” she said. “I don’t think it’s safe to be out and about.”

She said she continues to wear a mask when she does leave home.

“I wish people would understand it’s a real thing. You don’t want to go through it,” she said. “I’m a walking testimony that yes, it can happen and it has.”

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