Peyton Baumgarth

Washington Middle Schooler Peyton Baumgarth

is Missouri's Youngest COVID-19 Fatality

Peyton Baumgarth, 13, died on his favorite holiday. 

The Washington Middle School eighth-grade student died Saturday, Oct. 31, at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, becoming the youngest person in Missouri and the first child under 18 in the state to die from complications of COVID-19. 

“We are a tight-knit family, so not being able to be there to support one another broke our hearts,” said Cyndi Crawford, Peyton’s aunt. “We would have been there, every single one of us, if we could have.”

Nationwide, 111 children under 18 have died from COVID-19, according to information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

A funeral Mass will be held at St. Francis Borgia Church, but the time has not been decided. A friend of the family, Mary Payne, Pacific, organized a GoFundMe fundraiser to help Peyton’s family with medical bills, funeral expenses and loss of pay related to time off work. At press time, the fund had raised more than $33,000 from more than 1,000 donors, with donations ranging from $5 to $200, and the link had been shared more than 6,200 times. It’s available online at gofundme.com/f/peyton039s-guardian-angels.

Peyton’s love of the holiday might stem from a childhood costume.

Several Halloweens ago, as moms and dads around Washington dressed their children for a night of trick-or-treating, Stephanie Franek put the finishing touches on her son’s costume. She’d piled Peyton’s thick curls atop his head and handed him a lollipop. That night, he was representing the Lollipop Guild from the “Wizard of Oz.” 

Crawford, who spoke to The Missourian on behalf of the family, recounted how much Peyton looked forward to the holiday, although, because of COVID-19, the family wasn’t planning to trick-or-treat this year. 

By all accounts, Peyton was a typical teenager — he loved to sing, travel with his family and play video games. 

“I never saw him without a (video) game in his hand,” Crawford said. His favorites were Fortnite and Pokémon GO, and he enjoyed making YouTube videos to share his gaming experiences. 

On Instagram, Peyton shared photos of recent family vacations through Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri’s Ozarks region, including Table Rock Lake. 

His uncle, Wayne Franek Jr., said Peyton was also an avid music lover.

“He loved to listen to the radio, and he loved to sing,” Wayne Franek said. “He liked all kinds of music.”

When he wasn’t playing video games or listening to music, Crawford said Peyton was a social butterfly and loved talking to people and making people laugh. 

“He was so sociable. He never met a stranger,” Crawford said. “He always had a smile on his face. Always. He found the humor in everything.” 

Peyton’s passing was confirmed by the Washington School District on Sunday evening. Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer wrote in a statement, “We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family ... His family deserves nothing less. The family also asks that we all remember to wear masks, wash hands frequently and follow guidelines. COVID-19 is real and they want to remind students and parents to take these precautions in and outside of school.”

Additional counselors will be available when students return to the middle school Wednesday, Nov. 4, from break. 

Initially thought to be a virus that would primarily target people 65 and older, in recent weeks a number of children 13 and under have tested positive for the virus.

As of Tuesday morning, the Franklin County Health Department reported 20 Franklin County children have tested positive. In the month of October, 32 children ages 10 and younger, tested positive, including multiple infants and toddlers. 

VanLeer said Peyton’s last day at school was Thursday, Oct. 22, and officials were notified of his quarantine Monday, Oct. 26. 

Crawford said the hardest part of the situation was that the family couldn’t be there to comfort Peyton in his last days because of safety restrictions.

The family was shocked by the suddenness of Peyton’s worsening symptoms. Although Crawford said Peyton did have asthma and a thyroid condition, neither is believed to have contributed to his passing. 

That tight-knit family includes Peyton’s 16-year-old sister, Morgan, who Crawford said Peyton enjoyed a typical brother-sister relationship with where “they had their rivalries, but they would do anything for each other.” Peyton was also close with his cousins. Crawford remembers Peyton frequently reaching out to her 21-year-old son, his cousin, to ask questions about video games or play together while talking on headsets. 

Crawford said Peyton also enjoyed fishing with his dad, John Baumgarth, Villa Ridge. 

Stephanie Franek told St. Louis television news outlets Monday that she didn’t even know how to take a breath.

“This is just something that no parent should ever have to do,” Franek said in the broadcasts. 

Crawford remembers an adorable baby with a curly head of hair, just like “a little Butterball when he would toddle around.” He was the youngest of six cousins, and he was always determined to not let it show. 

“He tried to keep up with them,” she said. “He just adored his older cousins and wanted to be just like the big guys.”

While news of Peyton’s passing quickly spread Sunday night into Monday, including appearing on a CNN newscast, Crawford hopes that her nephew is remembered for more than being a fatality of the virus that has killed more than 230,000 people nationwide. 

Crawford said, “He would want to be remembered as the kind, caring person he was.”