Jake Johnson is still coming to grips with the loss of his 4-year-old son Leland, who died Saturday morning in a house fire at 34th and Avenue C in Council Bluffs.
“I was in disbelief. I didn't believe it. I still don't believe it right now."
Johnson got the news after a police officer knocked on his door. Fire and rescue crews were called to the home around 6 a.m. The first units on the scene reported the home "fully engulfed" in flames.
Johnson says his ex, who lived in the home, was alerted by one of her kids about the fire. “She said her 6-year-old son woke her up and she noticed the smoke and that's when she started panicking to get people out. And she tried getting Leland from upstairs, but the smoke just overwhelmed her.”
Firefighters were able to get to Leland, but by then he was unconscious. He later died at the hospital. “It was devastating," says Johnson. "I know she tried her best to get to him and she did everything she could to get him out."
He says his ex can't get past the guilt of feeling like she didn't do enough. “She is blaming herself, but I know it's not her fault. It was a complete accident.”
Leland had just visited his father last week as he was starting preschool. Johnson says he'll remember his son's smile and his love for monster trucks.
“He’s the type of kid if you're having a bad day, all you have to do is look at his face and it's instantly turned to a good day. He's full of energy, full of joy. He had a lot of love to give for a 4-year-old.”
There is still no word on what caused the fire.
Family and friends gathered for prayers Saturday night and left a memorial in the front yard with stuffed animals and toys. On Sunday, a group of neighborhood children were out selling lemonade in front of the house. The lemonade stand raised $500, which was given to the family.
Funeral arrangements will be made Monday. The family is also in the process of setting up a memorial fund for Leland.