When a gunman opened fire on elementary school students and teachers in Townville, South Carolina, a six-year-old boy would tragically lose his life. But despite the terrible grief endured by his parents, they honored the little boy in a way he would have loved. As mourners lined up to pay their respects, in fact, some surprising visitors stood in line to offer their prayers…
On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, police say, a teenager drove up to Townville Elementary School in South Carolina at around 1:45 p.m. Prosecutors allege that the boy – home-schooled, aged 14 and believed to have no connection to the school or indeed its students – pulled out a handgun and started shooting.
The alleged shooter was named by police as local boy Jesse Osborne. During the incident, chaos ensued as teachers attempted to protect the children and guide them to safety. Amid the furore, three people – two students and a teacher – were wounded by gunfire.
And as a call-out was made to local police departments, word of the incident reached the Townville Volunteer Fire Department just blocks away. Jamie Brock, who has served 30 years as a volunteer firefighter at the station, immediately headed to the scene before responding officers arrived.
Investigating officers have said, meanwhile, that the incident actually began two miles away at Osborne’s home. His grandmother discovered that her son – Osborne’s 47-year-old father Jeffrey – had been shot and killed, and also that Osborne had gone.
Just a minute after events began at the school, moreover, an emergency call was received as a teacher reported the shooting. Within a short time, Brock arrived at the school and was able to disarm the gunman before the shooter could access the building, no doubt preventing an even greater tragedy.
Nevertheless, a female teacher had already been struck in the shoulder, while another youngster was shot in the foot. And a second student, six-year-old Jacob Hall, was hit in the leg, with the bullet tearing through a major artery and causing massive blood loss.
But while the teacher and the other injured student were released from hospital later that day, Jacob was airlifted to Greenville Memorial Hospital, where doctors operated. He would remain in a critical condition in hospital for the next three days.
Sadly, however, the youngster succumbed to his injuries at around 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 1. With his family by his side, Jacob had been swathed in a blanket adorned with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles motif.
Jacob’s heartbreakingly short life hadn’t been an easy one – indeed, born prematurely, he struggled with asthma and had problems with his eyesight. Nonetheless, every night at bedtime, he would tell his parents how his superhero alter ego “Cat Boy” would save the neighborhood while Townville slept.
The tragedy naturally had a profound impact on the local community. Then, on Tuesday, October 4, a visitation service was held at Oakdale Baptist Church in Townville. It was a service that friends, family and well-wishers attended in their thousands – and there were also some surprising attendees.
Mindful that many of Jacob’s young classmates would be present at the service, his parents encouraged attendees to dress as superheroes. But what began as a thoughtful gesture to make the service less intimidating for the children there turned into an epic tribute to a young child who would always fantasize about helping others.
Speaking to Greenville, South Carolina, TV station WYFF, Jacob’s mother Renae said, “He loved anything to do with goodness. He loved anything to do with being able to help somebody. That’s why I say Jacob was going to make a difference, and he still is going to make a difference.”
The young boy had been placed in his casket wearing a Batman outfit. The casket itself was kitted out with superhero memorabilia, including a Captain America figurine, superhero balloons and – his favorite – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle masks. And, while she was visibly devastated, his mom paid loving tribute to her son by being dressed as Batman’s sidekick, Robin.
With Townville’s population standing at 4,000, it’s thought that more than a third of the local community showed up, many dressed as anyone from Superman and the Avengers to Wonder Woman. Furthermore, the local police even showed up wearing superhero shirts. Perhaps the biggest arrival, however, was still to come.
Pulling up to the church in the Batmobile was none other than Batman… At the invitation of Jacob’s family, John Buckland attended the service, representing the charity Heroes 4 Higher. In fact, he drove his Batmobile hundreds of miles from West Virginia to deliver a moving speech at the ceremony.
“Out of this community, the world is learning how to do it right, and they’re learning it from a six-year-old boy,” said military veteran Buckland, founder of Heroes 4 Higher, according to FOX Carolina. “Let’s take what we’ve learned from Jacob and let it make us a better person.”
Choking back tears, he then continued, “This whole day is about Jacob. Today I firmly believe he’s getting a kick out of all of this, but I can’t help feel he’s been riding that Batmobile with that wreath for the longest time today.” He also described the service as “the biggest superhero bash this planet has ever seen.”
Buckland, who makes appearances around the country to give motivational talks, will add Jacob’s name to his Batmobile – or Hopemobile, “a rolling memorial” – alongside other fallen children from his travels. He said to WYFF, “Batman’s story is turning pain into power. What better cause for me to come and join in?”
A statement subsequently released by the grieving parents said, “Jacob came into our lives six years and four months ago and changed it completely. He showed us how to love, laugh and smile even on days we did not want to. God gave him to us and he was taken away by a senseless act.” But the tragic circumstances of his death and the touching response it provoked may yet mean that Jacob will continue to help others – just as he always wanted to.