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Coronavirus Victims: Detective Marylou Armer

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

On April 3 this year, the Santa Rosa Courthouse square glowed blue in the night. About 100 miles away, flags flew at half-staff at California's Capitol building.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The state was mourning the loss of Marylou Armer, who died days earlier of complications from COVID-19. She was a detective for the Santa Rosa Police Department's Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit.

CHANG: Stephen Bussell started working with Armer almost 20 years ago.

STEPHEN BUSSELL: It's some of the most traumatic work we do in law enforcement - dealing with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault. So it takes a special kind of individual to investigate those types of crimes. And you have to have empathy and compassion and diligence and attention to detail, and Marylou possessed all of those things.

CHANG: Bussell and Armer became close friends over the years.

KELLY: He was at Armer's wedding. She was a bridesmaid at his.

BUSSELL: We used to play golf together a lot. She was a - you know, she liked golf. She liked scuba diving. She liked traveling. You know, when we moved places or locations, we'd help each other move. So we were pretty close.

KELLY: Bussell says she was the kind of person who was a friend to everybody, that she left a deep impact on her community.

MARI LAU: I got something in the mail. I wasn't sure who it came from. The name didn't sound familiar at all.

CHANG: That's Mari Lau, Marylou's older sister.

LAU: And when I opened the package, there was two drawings. One was a card that she drew and the other one, a picture.

CHANG: The package was from a 7-year-old girl in Santa Rosa. She included her allowance to help Armer's family.

LAU: Seven-year-old young girl telling me that she wanted to be kind and helpful like my sister.

KELLY: Lau doesn't know how the girl and Armer crossed paths, but it is clear she left a mark like she did with so many other community members.

CHANG: Lau and her sister were close. Her memories are fond, but she also remembers her sister as a woman with a backbone of steel.

LAU: She was a very caring person, but she - you know, she had tough love. If she knew she had to say something, she'll tell you whether you agreed with it or not. Whether it was going to hurt your feelings or not, she wanted you to know. She knew how to stand her ground.

CHANG: Armer fell ill in the early days of the pandemic, when testing was scarce. She tried to get tested three times before finally being admitted to a hospital in the final days of her life.

LAU: If my sister would have been tested earlier enough, I honestly believe that she would still be here with us.

KELLY: After reading Armer's story in the paper, a woman in California started an online petition called Armer Law. It calls for a law that would give first responders priority access to testing during a pandemic. More than 100,000 people have signed.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPIE SABOTAGE SONG, "OM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.