School copes with loss of classmate, 8 India Bryant died of AIDS, which also killed her mother, 31

February 08, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Hanging on the door of Josephine Morton's third-grade classroom at Brehms Lane Elementary School is a chart that tracks student attendance.

India Bryant got a smiley face for perfect attendance in September. After that her line on the chart is blank.

She died of AIDS Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was the same disease that killed her 31-year-old mother nearly two years ago.

India was 8 years old.

"India Is in Heaven," read the headline on fliers posted around the Northeast Baltimore school yesterday, report card day.

"India was my angel," said Principal Claudia Brown, who said she had been dreading the girl's death. "I just didn't know if I could stand it." She gave India a pair of prized pearl earrings "to help her fly home."

"She was a beautiful child and a good student," said Ms. Morton, one of many teachers and students who attended India's funeral last evening at the First Baptist Church on Caroline Street. Some had attended the viewing at March Funeral Home on North Avenue. One classmate left a photo of herself to travel with India and Ms. Brown's earrings.

"The other kids didn't really quite grasp that India would no longer be in the class. We told them she had gone to heaven," said Ms. Morton.

India was diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome shortly after her mother's death, and no one knows how long she had the disease. India and her brother Dante, 10, have been raised since then by their maternal aunt, Ineather Dukes. (Another older brother, Isaac, 15, attends Lake Clifton-Eastern High School.)

"I think she really knew," said Ms. Dukes. "She recognized some of the medicines and said she must have the same thing as her mother had. Shortly before the end she said she was tired of taking medicines and wanted to go be with her mother."

Dante, who is seriously ill and uses a wheelchair because of a spinal disease, and India came to Brehms Lane because it has an elevator.

"When they came," said Ms. Brown, "I acted the way principals too often act. We're overcrowded, and I pointed out that they don't live in our zone. I acted like a bureaucrat.

"But her aunt insisted, and the second time I saw India, I was smitten."

After that point, Ms. Brown wrote a poem that she framed and gave to India's aunt.

It read: "No more emotional distance/ No more professional distance./ And so I tried to stay away./ But India knew./ The teachers knew."

Ms. Dukes, a church secretary, described India as a "good girl with a marvelous voice." She sang in the choir at First Baptist, her aunt said, and the Make a Wish Foundation treated her to a trip to Walt Disney World last summer.

India was a student at Brehms Lane "during a time when there is a lot of fear about AIDS," said Ms. Brown. "There was no panic here. She was treated like a princess. She was very careful about the way she carried herself. You could see her get into an activity that would take a lot of energy, and she'd pull up, very carefully pull up, pace herself."

India is the second Brehms Lane student to die in recent years. Fourth-grader Tito Taylor was killed accidentally two years ago in a drug-related shooting. Ms. Dukes believes drugs are behind her niece's death, too. India's mother, she said, was a drug abuser.

At the end of India's life last weekend, some Hopkins doctors suggested putting her on life support. "We decided against it," said Ms. Dukes. "We thought about the quality of her life rather than the quantity."

India Bryant didn't have a whole lot of life's quantity. But during her brief span, her aunt said, "she taught the whole family how to love."

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