Sunday, May 10, 2020 | 6:01 p.m.
RENO — Ian McElhaney asked his brother at least a dozen times what he wanted for his birthday.
The 18-year-old, who liked video games and dreamed of becoming a police officer, was going to use the money he saved from doing yard work for a neighbor to buy Charles Koons the best birthday present.
It didn’t matter that it was all the money he had. Ian was always the kid who put everyone else first.
“I just kept telling him, ‘I don’t need anything. I just want to see you,’” Charles told Ian on Monday, April 20. They had been quarantined away from each other amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“You’re taking care of yourself, right?” Charles asked. Ian sounded as if he had a stuffy nose. Charles, who was turning 29, was a little worried.
Diagnosed with diabetes when he was 9, Ian struggled. He was in a coma for week a few years ago after his blood sugar dropped too low. He also had seizures.
“But he always bounced back. Always,” Charles said.
Ian insisted he was fine.
Three days later, Ian’s lungs would be taken over by the coronavirus. When paramedics arrived at his house, he wasn’t breathing. He went into cardiac arrest. At the hospital he tested positive for COVID-19.
Ian was pulled off life support on April 23 after doctors said he was brain dead.
His family would say goodbye in a Zoom chat room set up by nurses in the Intensive Care Unit at Renown Regional Medical Center.
“I begged him not to go,” Charles said. “Then, I told him I loved him.”
Making everyone feel better was what Ian tried to do in the days and weeks after his mother’s death.
Ian’s mom, Jana McElhaney died Jan. 26 from head injuries in a suspected domestic violence attack in Virginia City. Her husband of about a year, William Collier, is in jail on murder charges in connection with her death. He is expected to be arraigned in June.
Ian wanted to make sure his younger brother, Aden, 14, was OK. He worried about his older brother Aaron, 20. He tried to comfort his sister, Nikkie Holliday, who flew from Cincinnati to Virginia City to help bury their mother. And Charles flew from Los Angeles to stay and help take care of his brothers.
Ian, who was described by his brothers as shy but brilliant, felt guilty about their mother’s death.
“He felt responsible for seeing things (Collier) did in the house. Of course, it wasn’t at all his fault, but he wished he could have stopped things,” Charles said.
The five children of Jana McElhaney looked to each other for support, vowing to get involved in domestic violence causes.
Ian and Aden went from living with their mom in Virginia City, to living with their father in Reno.
Aaron and Charles got an apartment together.
But they were healing.
“It was us against the world,” Charles said.
The siblings agreed they would all be together for Christmas at older sister Nikkie’s house in Cincinnati.
Christmas was special for their mom, and the first one after her death would be hard.
Nikkie planned to give everyone an ornament, just as their mother had done every year.
“My mom’s death was hard, but she had a chance to live it,” Nikkie said. “My brother doesn’t get that chance. None of us get to see him grown up. He doesn’t get to fall in love and have a family.”
Nikkie, who works in a veteran’s hospital, says she is frustrated that some aren’t taking the coronavirus seriously.
“There is so much we don’t know about this virus, yet,” she said. “One day you’re fine and the next day you aren’t. One day Ian was fine, and the next day he wasn’t.”
His father, Brett McElhaney, said Ian didn’t have any of the typical symptoms.
“No fever,” he said. “His symptoms seemed gastrointestinal and like diabetes.”
His father has no idea where he may have contracted the virus. Ian’s younger brother has also tested positive. Ian’s father has tested negative.
Nikkie talked to Ian just days before he died.
“He was fighting with Aden and I was just telling him he had to get along,” Nikkie said.
“Things will get better when quarantine is over,” she told him
Ian was excited to be joining Job Corps, a job training program for young adults, in May. He was studying to get his driver’s license.
“He had gotten pretty good,” his father said of letting him practice driving a few times.
And Ian was talking more and more about becoming a police officer.
Charles thinks that was because Ian saw the good in law enforcement when he had medical emergencies and how police helped the family after their mother’s death.
“I kept telling him he could do it,” Nikkie said. “Don’t let anything stop you.”
Aden, Charles and Aaron raced to the Renown as paramedics were trying to save their brother’s life.
They could only wait outside the hospital — no visitors were allowed in to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Nikkie prayed for a miracle.
Charles, Aaron and Aden, paralyzed in fear, didn’t believe doctors when they said there was little chance Ian would survive.
“We just hoped they were wrong,” Aaron said.
“If we could have been there none of us would have left his side,” Charles said. “We are scared he felt alone.
“We prayed our mom was there with him.”
They hope there is one takeaway from their brother’s death:
“I hope people start taking this seriously,” Charles said. “You don’t know what it is like to watch your brother die from a computer screen.”