Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan came to the United States from Liberia to marry his fiancee, with whom he had a son 19 years ago. But while Duncan was briefly reunited with Louise Troh, he never got a chance to make up for 16 lost years with his offspring.
By most accounts, he would have been abundantly proud.
In Karsiah Eric Duncan he would have found a quiet but self-assured youth, a natural leader who excelled in sports, rebuilt tornado-damaged homes with church members in Joplin, Mo., and won a distinction in March when Olympic champion Carl Lewis handed him the “courage award” given at the annual Texas Christian Athlete of the Year Awards.
The young man arrived in Dallas last week, hopeful to see his father. At a news conference Tuesday, he said that “I’m praying for my family to be OK and my dad makes it out safely.”
Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, died Wednesday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
Young Eric arrived in the United States at 11, having fled civil war in Liberia with his mother. They first went to Ivory Coast, then Guinea, where he lived in a refugee camp until he came to the United States. His basketball coach at Dallas Conrad High School said he is indistinguishable from American kids, although perhaps more low-key and more polite with adults.
Although basketball was his sport, when Eric was in the 11th grade, the coach, M.T. Teyeskie, asked him to try out for the football team. Teyeskie said he was thinking of using Eric as an outside linebacker until he spotted him tossing the ball one day with teammates. The coach put him in as quarterback, a move whose results surprised even Teyeskie.
“That’s very, very unusual, especially since he hadn’t played football at Conrad until his junior year,” the coach said.
And Eric excelled.
“He’s just a tremendous athlete,” Teyeskie said, explaining that Eric, 6 foot 3 and 190 pounds, also was co-captain of the Conrad Chargers basketball team and ran track.
Last year in a football game, Roosevelt High School was up against the Liberian-dominated team (70 percent) at Conrad, a relatively new school whose diverse student body speaks 36 languages.
“We were down 18-7,” Teyeskie recalled. “I remember Eric telling me, ‘Coach, put the team on my back. I got this.’ ”
Duncan threw for over 300 yards, including five touchdown passes, as the underdog Chargers won 42-32.
Leader in the church
Eric’s mother joined a Southern Baptist church in Dallas, but Eric was taken to Skillman Church of Christ by a relative who had come in contact with the congregation’s prison outreach program and had joined upon his release, said Chuck Adair, the church’s executive minister.
After Eric’s father died, the church community has rallied to support the young man, Adair said. “He is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.”
The Rev. Sam Mings, whose Hurst-based Lay Witnesses for Christ International sponsored the March sports awards competition, said it was his understanding that several Skillman families hosted Eric for long periods during his high school years and remain close to him.
Adair declined to discuss Eric’s relationship with host families but did say that he has been a leader in the youth ministry and actively participated in rebuilding houses in Joplin after the catastrophic 2011 tornado.
Eric graduated in spring and began attending Angelo State University in San Angelo in August, a few weeks before his father arrived in the U.S. He has received financial aid but not a football scholarship, and although he is considered a member of the red-shirted “scout” team, he may eventually play as a walk-on, university President Brian May said.
Teyeskie said Eric’s ambition is to become a coach.
‘Not a normal situation’
May disputed a media report that quoted a university official as saying Eric will not be back on campus for three weeks, after he is cleared of any health concerns — even though he had not come into contact with any contagious person.
It’s not a ban, May insisted. Eric is being afforded the same bereavement consideration any student would get. In his case, faculty members are sending him assignments and trying to keep him from falling behind. May said that during his frequent telephone conversations with Eric — four alone on Thursday — that the student agreed with the arrangement.
“This is not a normal situation, and a lot of people want to talk to him because it was not a normal death. It’s not just that he lost his dad; he’s got a lot of people looking at him,” May told the Star-Telegram.
“Of course, we have to protect everybody, and our own students,” he went on. “But we think he is completely safe. This is not different from any other bereavement situation. And as as soon as he’s back here we will see that he gets caught up.
“We’re giving him some time and to regroup and be with his host parents,” the university president said.