A tragic chapter in the otherwise uplifting story of a grandma who texted the wrong teen about Thanksgiving dinner and ended up starting a sweet holiday tradition that has lasted years: Lonnie Dench, the husband of that grandma, has died of COVID-19. Jamal Hinton, who was 17 when Wanda Dench accidentally texted him instead of her grandson back in 2016, has spent every Thanksgiving since that one with the Denches. On April 1, he revealed on Twitter that both Wanda and Lonnie had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and that Lonnie had been hospitalized with pneumonia. Two days after that, he said he had been able to talk to Lonnie on the phone. On Wednesday night, the AZFamily reporter who has been reporting on the Arizona Thanksgiving tradition since 2016 tweeted that Lonnie had died; Hinton later tweeted that Lonnie died Sunday morning.
"He had the truest heart of love, like no other," Wanda tells AZFamily. "He did so many acts of kindness that no one ever heard about. He was my hero. And I’m a better person because of him." Lonnie had told the news outlet back on March 10 that he was delivering water to grocery stores amid the pandemic, but it's not clear if that's how he contracted the coronavirus. Before he died, "Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!" Hinton tweeted. And on the YouTube page he shares with his girlfriend (who, along with other friends and family members, has also attended the Thanksgivings over the years), the couple filmed themselves talking with Wanda through a screen door as they dropped off a care package, since she is still quarantined at home. (Read more coronavirus stories.)