Family of local prosecutor, who died of COVID-19 days after giving birth, talks of her legacy

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A loss felt across the Kansas City community. An assistant Jackson County prosecutor dies of COVID-19 complications just days after giving birth. 

JoEllen Engelbart’s family said ‘love’ is the only word that begins to describe the way she lived her life. 

“There is a vast void that is left behind,” Brother Larry Flanagan said.

It’s a void only one of his sister’s hugs could fill, he said.

“She was not only my older sister, but she was probably my best friend,” Flanagan said. “She was always there for me and my brother and always watching over us, always protecting us and frankly probably saved us from more than we’ll ever know.”

Engelbart was a protector of people. It didn’t matter if you were family or a stranger. 

She volunteered at Rose Brooks, a domestic violence shelter, and dedicated her life to fight for some of the most vulnerable people.

“She had so much to do, so much to prove, so much to complete to make this world a better place,” Uncle Ross Nigro said. “And the fact that, that was taken from her, from us. The world’s a little worse off today.”

Engelbart was an assistant Jackson County prosecutor in the Special Victims Unit. 

For five years, she advocated for children who were abused. 

“She had spent so much time making the world a better place for kids to grow up,” Flanagan said, “and then now this was her time and her turn to be a mother.”

The 32-year-old died due to coronavirus complications just four days after giving birth. 

She never got to hold her miracle baby. He was born three months premature. 

They named their little fighter Ross after her grandfather and uncle. 

“It’s emotional because she was so proud of coming up with that name. It meant so much to her,” Flanagan said. “The fact that she never got to hold him is devastating. Her whole life was the last few months dedicated to make sure Ross gets into this world. That’s all she cared about.”

This family urges everyone to take the virus seriously. They know first-hand, even the most cautious can be affected by COVID-19.

“You just can’t let your guard down for one second,” Nigro said, “’cause she was overly cautious and it still didn’t help.”

Family said baby Ross is still in the NICU. Currently, he’s doing well. The family has a Gofundme set up to help with hospital costs and baby items.

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