Giving, loving, goofy, smart, adventurous: These are just a few of the words that friends and family members used to describe Kaleb Duckworth, the 19-year-old who tragically died on Tuesday night from injuries received in a fight at the Applebee’s restaurant in Dawson County.
According to Kaleb Duckworth’s mother, Amanda Duckworth, her son was the “All-American” teenager, who loved fishing, the outdoors and his truck, and who touched the lives of every person he came in contact with.
“He was just full of life — he loved fishing, racing, he was all about his truck and his friends and his family,” Amanda Duckworth said. “He was just a little country boy with a heart of gold and he’d give anybody the shirt off his back.”
Duckworth’s giving spirit extended to everyone he knew, Amanda Duckworth said, from his closest friends and family to anyone he met that needed his help. Even in death, her son’s generosity will continue on, she said, with his organ donation going to help save five lives.
“He could potentially be saving like five lives; it’s hard, but it’s good to know,” Amanda Duckworth said. “They said after a year that if the recipients are open to it we could potentially meet them, so that gives us some comfort knowing he’s helping.”
Kaleb’s generosity and openness made him dozens of friends in the community, including his closest group of friends which always included his older brother, Tristin.
According to Tristin Duckworth, Kaleb was never worried about dressing up or impressing others to make friends, instead, he drew people in by being completely himself.
“When we were real little I started getting older and started telling him that he needed to dress up a little more cause I’d tell him, ‘If you don’t look your best you won’t make as many friends,’” he said. “He was only like eight at the time, but he said, ‘You know, if people care about the way you look you’ll never make friends.’ And I just thought that’s the smartest thing I’ve ever heard an eight-year-old say.”
Tristin Duckworth said since Kaleb was injured, the whole family truly learned the impact that he made on people’s lives.
“I realized something super important yesterday — there were like 300 kids at the hospital, and Kaleb never once cared how he looked and somehow he was able to touch so many people, he was the most giving, caring person I’ve met,” Tristin Duckworth said. “They would come straight up to me and say, ‘We’re really good friends with Kaleb,’ — not one kid said, 'Kaleb is our friend,’ but they’d say things like, ‘That’s my best friend.’”
Amanda Duckworth said that dozens of her son’s friends came to the hospital during the days Kaleb was there, both to visit their friend and to support his family.
“There were hundreds of kids that came through the ICU; they let them in so they could have some closure, but they’d come through from the time it opened to the time it closed and just hang out in the lobby,” Amanda Duckworth said. “So you’d go downstairs and there’d be 50 to 60 kids down there just sitting down there for him.”
Making people laugh was one of Kaleb's biggest goals each day, Tristin Duckworth said.
"He was super impulsive, goofy as all get out,” Tristin Duckworth said. “If he could make a person laugh within like an hour his day was made; if people were laughing and having a good time then his day was good.”
The brothers were affectionately known by all as “Duck” and “Little Duck,” and Tristin Duckworth said that his brother would always invite him to join in on any fun he and his friends were having.
“He would always invite me to hang out with his friends; he’d come downstairs and say things like, “Hey me and my friends are singing karaoke wanna come up,’” Tristin Duckworth said. “I was talking to his friends the other day and saying how they were his closest friends, and they all said, ‘We weren’t his friends, we were his family’ — they were about as close-knit as our actual family.”
Kaleb was just as close to his extended family, including his aunt and uncle, Judy and Garry Duckworth, who Judy Duckworth said were more like grandparents to him.
"He was all heart; he never left my house without hugging me and my husband and telling us he loved us,” Judy Duckworth said. “He was here just about every day, and sometimes when he was younger he’d stay the whole weekend with us.”
Judy Duckworth said that, no matter how bad of a day she or anyone around Kaleb might have been having, he was always the first one there to cheer them up.
“You could be down and out and he could make you laugh — my son had COVID and I’d cried and cried for days, but Kaleb just came and hugged me and he was the first one to get me to smile again,” Judy Duckworth said. “His favorite saying if you were sad about something or if you were worried about something, he would say, ‘It will be alright; it’ll be alright.’”
Kaleb was enrolled at Lanier Technical College in Dawson County and was finishing up his first semester taking online classes to pursue a welding degree. According to Amanda Duckworth, her son loved working with his hands and was a fast learner for anything new.
“Just two weeks ago he watched a YouTube video and pulled the transmission from his truck and put in a whole new one all from watching a video; he was a smart kid,” Amanda Duckworth said. “If somebody’s car was broken or [they needed] their oil changed he’d fix it for them, go help them and never ask anybody to give him anything in return; he was a very giving person.”
Tristin Duckworth said that nothing could hold Kaleb back, once he set his mind to something he would accomplish it.
“When he was little he broke his leg and they had to bend his leg in a certain way in a full cast, but he decided that no matter what he was gonna walk around, so he’d walk around with his leg bent,” Tristin Duckworth said. "There was nothing you could say or do that could break that kid’s spirit.”
Since the attack, Amanda Duckworth said that dozens of people in the community have come out of the woodwork to help support her family, raising money, coming to the hospital and holding prayer vigils for the family.
“The community response just keeps growing, both of the places we work have been amazing, churches have reached out and offered places for him to be buried and the people here at Northeast Georgia Medical have sat and cried with us and let us cry on them,” Amanda Duckworth said. "He had a lot more friends than we realized.”
Tristin Duckworth said that Kaleb would love to be the center of attention and would want his friends and family to be happy remembering the good times with him, instead of focusing on their loss.
“It’s crazy to think a 19-year-old could bring so many people together,” he said. “I was looking at all the people and thinking it didn’t matter what they looked like, how they dressed, how they talked, what their orientation was, he was friends with whoever wanted to be friends with him.”
A GoFundMe page is active for anyone who wants to help the family monetarily with funeral preparations and hospital bills. For more information or to contribute to the fundraiser, click here.
Funeral services for Duckworth have been announced by Anderson-Underwood Funeral Home in Dahlonega and will be held on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, at 2 p.m. in the funeral home's chapel. See Duckworth's full obituary and service details here.