Kurt Ryan, a 15-year-old Gloucester High sophomore known for his reddish-blonde afro, sense of humor, and love of video games, died Tuesday afternoon from complications of COVID-19, according to his family.

“He was a video gamer at heart. That’s what he loved,” said older sister Sally Lambert during a phone interview along with Kurt’s parents, Tammy and Dan Ryan. “He knew everything about gaming and computers, he was just fabulous with them and he was top of his classes in school.”

The family said Kurt had made friends online from all over the world.

His mother said he got sick on Christmas Day.

“He was OK, though, manageable,” she said. He eventually tested positive for COVID-19. “We were told to just wait it out,” she said. Tammy said she felt something was not right on Tuesday so she called 911, and Kurt was taken to Addison Gilbert Hospital.

She said she wanted people to take care of themselves. “It’s no joke,” she said of COVID-19.

One of the things that made Kurt stand out was his huge afro, his family said. They estimated Kurt had not cut his hair in six years.

The family said he was not your average 15-year-old. They described him as wholesome, good and morally kind with the best laugh. People were reaching out to talk about his a good sense of humor and how funny he was. He was someone you would turn to to fix things, they said, and he could often be heard talking someone through an issue they had with a computer, phone or video game.

Gloucester Police patrol officer Pete Sutera, the school resource officer at O’Maley Innovation Middle School, said of Kurt, “I watched him go through O’Maley. He was a really nice kid. It’s unfortunate.” During the pandemic, the school resource officers started the online club SRO Gaming to reach out to kids online. Sutera said he could always get a conversation about video games from Kurt.

Among the games he liked were Minecraft and Fortnite. The family said Kurt had a group of friends he would get online with, which was especially important due to the pandemic and the inability to physically get together.

Help for other students

Superintendent Ben Lummis, in an email just before 9 p.m. on Jan. 4, told the school community of Kurt’s death, but did not mention COVID-19.

“This unexpected tragedy will require us to come together as a community to hold our loved ones and Kurt’s family close,” Lummis said.

One of Kurt’s teachers reached out to share how the class was sharing memories of the teen on Wednesday, Dan Ryan said.

“They were all just reminiscing and laughing and crying about his memories,” his father said.

In a subsequent statement, Lummis said the family informed the district “his passing was the result of complications from COVID-19. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and we have asked for everyone’s compassion and understanding for their privacy as they — and our community — mourn this tragic loss.”

“At Gloucester High School, we have implemented a plan for responding to Kurt’s passing focused on helping our students who need additional support,” Lummis wrote in his message to parents. “Our high school’s Crisis Intervention Team is working with our community partners including Riverside Trauma and JRI/Children’s Friend and Family Services to help set up support for Gloucester High students and staff. Throughout this week, the high school will have counselors available for any students or staff members who needs support.”

Lummis also re-shared the district’s COVID-19 safety protocols, saying the district has “implemented the measures that are called for by state guidelines and are consistent with CDC guidelines to minimize the transmission of the COVID-19 virus in schools.” Students are kept 3 feet apart as much as possible, masks are require except when eating, there’s limited seating in lunchrooms and there is a “vigorous testing program for students and staff.” The schools encourage students and families to get vaccinated, and school employees are required to have gotten their shots.

“A student death is a difficult and challenging situation that may generate distress in some students,” Lummis said in his message. “Children and teens will have a wide range of reactions to the news of the death of a local student. Your child may hear about this news at school, from friends or social media. Please know that our counselors at our schools are able to provide support to any student who needs some extra attention.” Lummis also shared resources and advice that if your child is aware of Kurt’s death, to take time to listen to them, and if you think your child needs additional support to contact your school counselor or principal.

Help for the family

A fundraiser was set up on on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe, “to help the family with this sudden passing and any costs associated with this tragic event.” “Any help and donations would be gratefully appreciated,” read a message on the site. “The Ryan family is absolutely devastated, as we’re sure all are who had the pleasure of knowing Kurt, and are struggling to find the funds to cover the cost.”

In five hours, the fundraiser had raised $11,185 from 205 donors.

“Thank you so very much to everyone who is thinking of our son with us during this terrifying and inconsolable time,” read a message from Tammy and Dan Ryan on the GoFundMe page. “We are so grateful for all your donations and feel blessed that so many of you remember our son and his iconic larger-than-life hair that was a part of who he was. Those of you who know him personally know exactly what I mean. My husband and I are truly touched by the amount of support we have been receiving through this and we thank you.”

In addition to his parents and older sister, Kurt also leaves an older brother, Reese Lambert.

The family said a celebration of Kurt’s life will be held on his birthday, April 22, in a place and at a time to be announced.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at eforman@northofboston.com.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or by email at eforman@northofboston.com.

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