Grandma whose misfired text to teen led to Thanksgiving invite loses husband to coronavirus

"As some of you may have already found out tonight, Lonnie did not make it," Jamal Hinton tweeted of the death of Lonnie Dench, whose wife invited Hinton, a stranger, to dinner over text in 2016.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

A grandma who went viral when she invited a stranger to Thanksgiving dinner after accidentally texting him has lost her husband to coronavirus.

The death of Lonnie Dench, of Arizona, was announced late Wednesday by Jamal Hinton, the young man who received the misdirected text and then the invitation from Lonnie's wife, Wanda, about three and a half years ago.

"As some of you may have already found out tonight, Lonnie did not make it ... he passed away Sunday morning, but Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!" Hinton wrote on Twitter, sharing pictures and videos of him and his girlfriend with the Denches over the years.

The story began in 2016 when Hinton received a text from an unknown number.

"Thanksgiving dinner is at my house on November 24th at 3PM,” read the text. Hinton, then 17, asked who the message was from, and received the reply: “Your grandma.”

Hinton informed her, "You not my grandma."

"Can I still get a plate tho?” he asked.

The sender, Wanda, said the invitation stood, starting an annual tradition in which Hinton and the Dench family spent Thanksgivings together. Last year, Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela, invited Wanda and Lonnie to his family's house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Hinton wrote on Twitter early this month that Lonnie was in the hospital fighting coronavirus and pneumonia. He said Wanda was sick too, but Wanda later clarified that she had not been tested for coronavirus.

"Please send words of love and encouragement their way," Hinton wrote.

On Wednesday, in announcing Lonnie's death, Hinton added that Wanda was not sick.

NBC News reached out to Hinton and Wanda Dench on Thursday but did not immediately hear back. Kathy Knox Dench, who says she was married to one of Lonnie's brothers for 30 years, confirmed to NBC News that Lonnie has died, and said Wanda would share arrangements for Lonnie when she was ready.

Knox Dench said she appreciated "how everyone is being sensitive to Wanda's grief."

Lonnie and Wanda Dench had become so close with Hinton and Mikaela that they started having double dates outside of Thanksgiving. Mikaela has also been sharing updates about Wanda and Lonnie and asked simply earlier this month: "How does the worst stuff happen to the best people?"