A fall at his grandparents' home claims the life of a 4-year-old Forest Grove boy just before Christmas

by: COURTESY - Jacob Horner, 4, will be sorely missed by his family and the community.

Laura Horner heard a thud and what sounded like fluttering wind chimes.

Her husband, Jason, heard glass breaking and a loud wail from their four-year-old son, Jacob.

At dusk on Dec. 22, while visiting his maternal grandparents in Dallas, Texas, the Forest Grove boy — excited about the twinkling lights inside and outside their house — ran right between his dad and grandfather, tripped on a step and fell headlong into a plate glass storm door, which broke upon the impact.

"I was right there. I grabbed him immediately," said Jason, 39. "There were big panes of jagged glass — at first I thought he cut his wrist."

Then Jason caught a glimpse of Jacob's abdomen, and he knew something was terribly, awfully wrong.

"All his intestines were sticking out and there was blood everywhere," Jason tearfully recalled Monday morning as he and Laura sat in their Forest Grove living room, trying to come to grips with what occurred just two weeks ago. "I laid down on the ground with his back to my chest and I tried to apply pressure to his wound. Jacob was struggling and straining and I tried to calm him down, because I didn't want him to make the injury worse."

The next moments are a blur for the couple, who met in 1999, married in 2007 and welcomed Jacob into their family a year later. Jason yelled to Laura to call 911. His father-in-law, Alfredo Gomez, ran to the end of the driveway to guide paramedics in. Maria Gomez, Laura's mother, prayed.

Within minutes, Laura, Jason and Jacob were inside an ambulance, speeding toward a downtown Dallas hospital. Jason cradled their son, holding his small hands and whispering to him that everything was going to be all right.

"I just kept telling him, 'Hang on, buddy, you're going to make it … we're going to get help,'" Jason said. But Jacob's crying "started getting quieter and his lips went white. He was trying to fall asleep because he was losing so much blood.

"He squeezed my hand one more time and his head fell back. He died on the way to the hospital."

Angels and heaven

The day before the accident, Dec. 21, was a busy one for the Horners and their excited son. While Jason's two older children from a previous relationship —Rebekah, 18, and Hunter, 20 — stayed in Oregon, Jacob and his parents followed their tradition of spending Christmas with Jacob's "abuelita" and "abuelito" (grandmother and grandfather) in Dallas. They packed their suitcases and headed for Portland International Airport, ready for a big family holiday. Once they settled in and their flight reached cruising altitude, Laura said, Jacob started chattering about the clouds, the sky and whether "that was where the angels lived."

His mother told him yes.

"He'd been talking about angels and heaven to me over the last six months," Laura noted. "Now I feel like that was his way of asking what it would be like to live there."

For Jason, signs that something significant was changing started once the trio got off the plane in Dallas. Jacob didn't want to go out to eat like they usually did; instead, he wanted to go "right to Ita and Ito's house," his dad remembered. "It was as if, subconsciously, he knew there was something he needed to get done.

"For me it's helpful to think that maybe what happened was inevitable — that he was going to pass away that day, no matter what," he said. "It makes me believe there's a higher power."

It had only been a week since the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Jason and his buddies at Forest Grove Fire & Rescue — where he's a volunteer firefighter — had since discussed how hard it would be to lose a child.

"Because of that tragedy we'd actually been holding onto Jacob a little tighter," Laura said.

"And then boom, seven days later, it happens to us," added Jason.

'Tried so hard'

A trauma team converged on Jacob's ambulance after it came to a stop in front of Children's Medical Center that fateful evening. More than a dozen doctors and nurses worked on him in the emergency room as his stunned family members waited for word outside the double NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Jason and Laura Horner relate the events leading up to the Dec. 22 death of their son Jacob while the family dog rests in Jasons lap (above).

"They immediately started doing chest compressions. There was a lot of commotion," said Jason. "They tried so hard to bring him back."

After what felt like 30 minutes — but was probably only five — a doctor emerged with the worst possible news: Jacob was gone.

Soon members of the extended family started arriving at the Gomez house, but Jacob's parents couldn't carry on with holiday meals and customs. There was no tamale dinner, no joy over opening presents, no moment left untouched by the pain of what had occurred.

"I had always taken a lot of pictures of Jacob with my parents, because they're getting older," said Laura, 44. "I figured that someday he'd have them as part of his family story.

"You just never think things will go this way. It's out of sync for a child to die."

They muddled through the next two days and watched the Christmas Eve sky grow dark as a rare thunder and lightning storm passed through overnight. On Christmas morning the power went out, and at noon, snowflakes began to fall.

"Jacob's body had just been released to the funeral home," Laura recalled. "There was a candle on the counter, and I watched its flame grow dim and then shoot up again, as bright as anything. We had some phenomenal experiences that day."

Memorial services for Jacob were held Dec. 26 at the Gomez's home church in Dallas and Dec. 29 at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Beaverton. He was transported to his final resting place at Mountain View Memorial Gardens in Forest Grove in Medic 4, his favorite FGF&R rig.

More than 30 local firefighters attended Jacob's sendoff. On the FGF&R Facebook page, Forest Grove Fire Chief Michael Kinkade wrote, "Our hearts are broken, but I am incredibly proud to be part of the fire department family of Forest Grove and Cornelius."

Nike Inc., where Laura works, provided a private jet to fly the family home with Jacob's remains on board. Donna Leahy, wife of Jason's employer, Ken Leahy, wrote the couple a note just before the New Year describing a vision of pink and white balloons forming the shape of a heart on the day of Jacob's Oregon farewell.

"That meant so much to us. There has been such an outpouring of love, support and prayers," noted Laura. "We are just so grateful and appreciative to everyone."

Not a day goes by that Kinkade doesn't text or call Jason, reminding him he's there. Several Dallas firefighters still grieve with the family, leaving encouraging messages when they're unable to pick up the phone.

Now, with the dynamics of their household forever changed, the anguished parents must learn to move forward, day by day.

"It's hard," Laura said during an interview on Monday. "Today's the 16th day we haven't seen him. Our whole life was centered on our routine with Jacob. We all went everywhere together, did everything together."

Their "new normal," said Jason, will be hard to establish.

"The reality of it has finally hit me," he said. "I try to think in terms of the spiritual. There's obviously a bigger purpose to why we're all here."

Big personality

Jacob Gomez Horner was born on Oct. 20, 2008. He loved his mom, his dad, his sister, Rebekah, and brother, Hunter.

The family's cocker spaniel, Riley, was Jacob's hide-and-seek buddy and constant companion when he was at home.

The gang from Star Wars and the Fantastic Four ranked among his favorite movie characters. He enjoyed his classes at Touchstone Preschool in Beaverton, just west of the Nike campus, where he was learning Spanish. According to his teachers, he was always quick to comfort a playmate who was having a tough day.

Forest Grove firefighters erected a memorial to little Jacob inside the fire station. Jacob was talkative, independent, energetic, cuddly and empathetic, said his mother, who struggles to get up in the morning now that her son isn't there to hug her, kiss her on the cheek and cheerfully announce, "Time to get up, mama!"

On the small side physically — he weighed 38 pounds at his last checkup — Jacob had a big personality.

"He just loved life," Laura said. "He was a very, very happy boy."

Survivors include his grandparents, Clarence and Pam Horner of Bend, Sandra Ballard of Redmond and Maria and Alfredo Gomez of Dallas, Texas; as well as numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

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