NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – His family said he was careful, avoiding big crowds while camping and fishing in northwest New Mexico. Still, a former Navajo Nation police and fish and wildlife officer came down with coronavirus and died less than a month later.

It’s the news no one wants to hear. “Mrs. Benally, he is not going to make it through the day,” Kelly Willis-Benally recalled. “Today is the day he is going to pass.”

Kelly was on the receiving end of that message earlier this month when doctors told her that her husband, 61-year-old Eddie Benally, would not survive coronavirus. “He is the strongest person I know and the bravest person I know,” Kelly said. “If anyone could beat it, it would be him.”

Eddie was born in Rehoboth. He became a police officer and fish and wildlife officer for the Navajo Nation, serving for 38 years. He was featured in a couple episodes of National Geographic’s Navajo Cops. “He was all over the country chasing poachers,” Kelly said. “He did a lot of undercover work.”

The two met 15 years ago through Native American Fish and Wildlife Services, tying the knot in September 2017. She said they were looking forward to the rest of their lives together. “We had a huge bucket list,” Kelly said. “We would sit by the fireplace and draw a map of what our future looks like.”

Eddie had retired and moved to Michigan to be with Kelly. She said he was back in New Mexico visiting when he contracted the virus. He was admitted to Fort Defiance Indian Hospital the day after Christmas and died 18 days later at Lovelace in Albuquerque. Kelly said it is heartbreaking to know their dreams together will not come true. “It is terrible,” Kelly said. “It is really terrible. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Kelly said Eddie’s mom also died from coronavirus on Mother’s Day of last year. Navajo Nation leadership released a statement saying they will always honor Eddie’s life and service to the Navajo people. Kelly has set up a GoFundMe page to help with expenses.