'A mother to everyone': Elementary school teacher dies of COVID-19 complications

"She was just a mother to everyone — to me, her students and even her colleagues," Julie Davis' daughter said.
Julie Davis died of COVID-19 complications shortly after reporting symptoms.
Julie Davis died of COVID-19 complications shortly after reporting symptoms.Courtesy of Stan Andrews
/ Source: NBC News

A third grade teacher in North Carolina who was moved to become an educator after the mass shooting at Columbine High School died of COVID-19 complications shortly after reporting symptoms, her family said.

Julie Davis, who was 49, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sept. 25 and got her positive test result three days later, said her daughter, Leanna Richardson.

"That weekend, she was vomiting, nauseated and had a fever," Richardson said.

A few days later, Davis was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted to the intensive care unit at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, where she died Oct. 4.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Davis, a lifelong resident of North Carolina, did not grow up with a lot of money, said Stan Andrews, her brother.

"Although we grew up poor, Julie was always someone who always wanted to give what little she had to people and always wanted to mentor people," Andrews said.

That commitment to others continued into adulthood. She gave birth to Leanna in 1998 and the next year gave up a career in accounting to become a teacher.

Davis was caring for her infant daughter on April 20, 1999, when she heard about the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, where a pair of students shot 13 people dead and left 24 others wounded.

"She told me there was no hesitation. She wanted to be there to protect students like me when I grew up," said Richardson, 22. "She was so selfless and loving and just completely abandoned her career to teach."

Davis earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's in English while raising Leanna and her younger brother, Nathan, with her husband at the time, Phillip Richardson. Davis and Richardson divorced while she was working her way through school.

She taught at Page Street Elementary School in Troy for 16 years before she moved last year to Norwood Elementary School in Stanly County.

"She was just a mother to everyone — to me, her students and even her colleagues," Richardson said. "People have reached out to me from years and years ago telling me how much they loved her as a teacher and mentor. She has always been that person you knew who you could depend on, no matter what."

Andrews said Davis' "loving and caring" reputation preceded her everywhere she went.

"Julie cared for her students like they were her own child," Andrews said. "Not even a pandemic could withhold her love for teaching and her students."

Andrews said that when he asked Davis this summer whether she was anxious about returning to the classroom, she responded: "It's my job and my life, and I'm going to continue doing it."

Her family said it was unclear how she contracted the virus because she was vigilant about following public health guidelines, but they suspect that she got it from a student at the school who had tested positive. Andrews said that is what Davis told him when he asked.

Stanly County Schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the school district told The Charlotte Observer that "there is no information from the local health department indicating Mrs. Davis contracted the COVID-19 virus from any staff member or student on campus."

Following Davis' passing, Stanly County Schools announced Saturday that they would switch to full remote learning for two weeks on Wednesday.

Throughout the pandemic, Davis did not travel to many places, except to work and her daughter's house and to visit her mother, who is 74 and has dementia, Richardson said.

Part of the reason Davis was so strict about safety measures was to protect her elderly parents and her 2-year-old grandson, Richardson said.

"She took it very seriously," she said. "She couldn't live with herself if she knew she had infected anybody she loved."

In a Facebook post dedicated to Davis' memory, Stanly County Schools said: "Mrs. Davis earned a well-deserved reputation as an inspirational teacher who was always seeking ways to support every student so that they were able to fulfill their potential.

"Students absolutely loved being taught by Mrs. Davis," it said. "Her personality was infectious and she brought joy into the lives of the students, staff, and community."

Davis is survived by her husband, Donnie Davis, and her son and daughter.

"She was the most selfless person I knew," Richardson said. "And her love for her students, her colleagues, her family and friends and her grandson is undying."

This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.