Whether someone met IU junior Joma Leonardo in passing or were close with him, friends and family said he was a kind, passionate man who made the people around him feel loved.
The 20-year-old was found dead in his Eigenmann Hall dorm room Thursday evening after the Indiana University Police Department was contacted to check on his well being. IUPD did not know the cause of death as of Feb. 23.
Leonardo has been described by loved ones as a dedicated resident assistant, an involved student and a beloved friend to those who knew him.
He is from Indianapolis and majored in political science and worked as a resident assistant, Leonardo’s younger brother Koji Leonardo said. He was also involved with Smash at IU, Anime Club, Filipino American Association at IU and College Democrats at IU, Koji said.
Leonardo’s family remembers him as a man who was incredibly kind and never afraid to reach out and help people, Koji, 19, said.
“He was a guy who was very kind and just a person who was nice to everybody no matter who or what kind of person you are,” he said.
Koji said the family is planning a memorial fund and service for Leonardo.
Leonardo’s energy and lively spirit were contagious, Sara Ivey Lucas, director for Residential Life at IU, said. She said the first time she met him was at a residential life open house in Wilkie Auditorium before COVID-19.
“He was just such a bundle of energy and so engaged with everyone that wanted to talk to him,” Lucas said.
He had the ability to get people’s attention and energize them, Lucas said. She said he loved being an RA. His residents told her they knew he was always there for them.
She said students recalled he would come in their rooms while they were watching an IU basketball game to tell them to quiet down, but he would become so engrossed in the game that he ended up watching with them.
Molly Kraus, Indiana Democratic Party Fifth District field director, said he took on leadership roles and constantly empowered his colleagues at the congressional campaign for Christina Hale during the 2020 election. The trait everybody first noticed about Leonardo was usually how “disarmingly kind” he was, she said.
Jack Morel, a friend from high school and 2020 University of Michigan graduate, said Leonardo was always enthusiastic in everything he did. He said Leonardo especially loved golf and his high school job as a caddie at Meridian Hills in Indianapolis.
Morel said he was not sure how, but every year Leonardo would figure out what day Morel would be at Meridian Hills to caddie his annual round with a friend.
“I don't know anybody else who would volunteer to carry my 30-pound golf bag on their back for four hours,” he said.
Leonardo wore his heart on his sleeve and he didn’t dull his personality for anybody, said Purdue University sophomore Jack McBride, another friend from high school. He always gave more of himself to help others than anyone else would for people, McBride said.
“He was dependable,” McBride said. “He was kind of unwavering in who he was, so you could always count on him being nice and being there to offer any help he could.”
He constantly wanted to make sure everyone was having a good day, McBride said. If someone was having a bad day, McBride said Leonardo would go out of his way to cheer them up.
“Joma was one of those people who always tried to leave everyone better than he found them,” he said.
He said Leonardo has left a lasting impact on his life.
“I don’t think anybody on this Earth could ever say a bad word about him because he had a genuine care for everybody,” McBride said.
He now thinks of ways he can be more like Leonardo, McBride said, because when he thinks of the name Joma, he thinks of happiness.
“To hear that he passed, it made me stop for a second and think about how many people that he might not have ever been able to touch,” McBride said.
Joma Leonardo’s family has planned a visitation for March 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Carmel, Indiana.
His brother, Koji, said the memorial Mass is on March 6 at 10:30 a.m., also at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church. The funeral is March 6 at 11:30 a.m. at Oaklawn Memorial Gardens in Indianapolis.
For all services, the family asks that masks and social distancing protocols be followed.
Koji said the family has started a memorial scholarship in Leonardo’s honor to assist with college expenses for less fortunate golf caddies who work at the Meridian Hills Country Club, where Leonardo worked in high school. Instead of flowers, the family asks for contributions toward the memorial scholarship.