Jacob Campbell wanted to grow up and become a hero like the imaginary guys in his favorite books.
The bright-eyed boy had the perspective of Yoda, the courage of Anakin Skywalker and the epic sense of humor of SpongeBob SquarePants.
After Jacob died Dec. 28, at age 7, Western Washington law enforcement officers honored him as the real hero he was.
Jacob was a lifelong fan of those officers. Lakewood police came to Classy Chassis - the Lakewood car wash owned by Jacob's dad, Corey Campbell. Jacob would watch them wash their squad cars, and play and talk with them.
He never met Pierce County sheriff's deputy Kent Mundell. But he knew all about him.
Mundell never knew that the child prayed for him after Mundell was shot four days before Christmas, nor that Jacob hoped for his recovery and considered him a hero.
After the deputy died, Jacob took comfort in his belief that Mundell was in heaven, meeting Jesus.
After the child died, five hours later, his parents looked at his peaceful face, and took comfort in their belief that Kent Mundell had taken their boy's hand and walked with him into heaven.
An early life of surgeries
Jacob was born to Corey and Lisa Campbell by emergency -Caesarean section on March 12, 2002. He was a month early, weighed 4 pounds, 2 ounces, had jaundice and was fighting to live.
As time passed, his diagnosis became more complicated. He had cerebral palsy and a mild form of autism. What doctors thought was a heart murmur turned out to be worse.
In 2003, Jacob survived open heart surgery to clear out his faulty aortic valve. In 2006, surgeons tried again. They replaced it with his strong pulmonary valve, which they in turn replaced with a donor valve.
Three months later, the donor valve began to fail. Jacob went in for a third operation. He had almost died during the second operation, and could have died during any of them, his father said.
Some families fall apart under the stress of caring for a medically precarious child.
The Campbells united and developed strengths they didn't know they had. They stayed so strong and positive for him that he went into one operation high--fiving his nurses.
Mary Bridge Children's Hospital and Health Center in Tacoma was his second home, Corey said, and Jacob loved and trusted the nurses, doctors, technicians and social workers there.
They loved him back and helped him brave needles, tests and painful therapies.
"They will those kids to live, " Corey said of the Mary Bridge team.
Having that resource of skill and warmth nearby meant the Campbells could manage two jobs and a real life for their three boys: Collin, 11, Jacob, and Brandon, 2.
Lisa worked a graveyard shift at Safeway so she could be home during the day. Corey built the car wash business. They camped and visited Maui, Disney World and Mexico.
They raised Jacob to be strong, and not to focus on his disability.
That's how Lisa was brought up.
"I was born deaf, " she said. "My mom would not coddle me. She said 'Go out and do your best. Stand up.' We try not to shelter Jacob."
T-Ball and spongebob
Jacob wasn't much interested in being sheltered.
He liked to wrestle with Brandon. He was an Uno card shark. Collin played sports, and Jacob was his biggest, loudest fan.
"For the last 2 1/2 years he was healthy and strong, " Corey said, comparing his son's recent life to the surgery years.
Though he remained slight and frail, Jacob loved sports and yearned to play them.
He was elated last summer to be able to bat on a T-ball team and to hold SpongeBob's hand at the Puyallup Fair. During the fall, he wore his Marcus Trufant Seahawks jersey when he watched football with his family.
At Montessori in Motion, he had buddies and was learning to write. He'd ended the year by making a 2010 calendar for his family.
In November, he caught what his family thinks was H1N1 flu. Because of that, he was home in the days after four Lakewood police officers were massacred on Nov. 29.
He watched the television coverage with his family, and for the first time he talked about death.
He asked if they were heroes, and if they were with his good friend Jesus.
Yes, his parents told him, they were heroes, and they were with Jesus.
'He was A fighter'
Before the officers' memorial procession Dec. 8, Corey and Collin helped officers clean their cars. Jacob, who loved that car wash, wanted to join in, but he was too sick.
Instead, he stayed home and watched the whole procession and memorial service.
Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 21, Kent Mundell was shot.
All these officers were heroes, Jacob said, and he wanted to be a hero too.
"We told him they were heroes, but he is our hero, for being so strong and courageous, " Corey said. "His whole life, he was about courage and strength. He was a fighter."
Christmas was coming, and Jacob imagined himself as a different kind of fighter.
He wanted a "Star Wars: The Clone Wars Heroes" book, and a light saber. He was thrilled to think that on Christmas morning he would become a Jedi warrior.
And so he did, light saber and all.
"He really loved Christmas, " Corey said. "He got through Christmas with more energy and spunk than we had ever seen. It has become clear to us that he really willed himself though that weekend."
Tucked into bed, at peace
On Dec. 28, Jacob developed a fever, and by evening he was in the emergency department watching Monday Night Football with his dad.
Together, they saw the announcement that Mundell had died.
"He's a hero like the others now, " Jacob said after watching the story on the 10 p.m. news.
Corey left the room for a few minutes, and returned to hear Jacob's monitors going off.
"I walked to the foot of his bed, " Corey said. "He just sat up out of bed and took his very last breath right at me."
For 90 minutes, Jacob's Mary Bridge friends tried to save him, and lost.
They took the devastated family aside, took all the tubes and needles out of Jacob, and tucked him into the hospital bed.
When the Campbells returned to Jacob's room, they found a look of peace on their boy's face.
"He was so at rest, " Corey said.
"He had a little smile, " Lisa said. "He was at peace, like someone was there to protect and guide him."
Escorted by officers
The Campbells don't believe it was coincidence that at Mountain View Funeral Home and Memorial Park, their boy lay in the viewing room next to Mundell's.
They don't believe it was chance that offered them the comfort of knowing police officers, the people Jacob so admired, were standing near him, protecting him.
The two families - law enforcement and the Campbells - talked over the next few days.
Officers brought their patches to Corey. They brought a blue Lakewood police bear. They talked about grief and pain. They placed the fallen officers' coin on Jacob's chest.
Corey was alone with Jacob when a chaplain knocked and asked if several officers could visit.
The Pierce County Sheriff's Department sergeant at arms entered at attention with nine more officers behind him.
They advanced slowly, saluted Jacob and stood at attention, honoring him. They all had tears in their eyes.
"Oh my goodness, " Corey thought. "Jacob's smiling bigger than SpongeBob."
When it was time for Jacob to go from Mountain View to his funeral, five officers escorted him, their squad car lights flashing.
They were proud to accord that honor to a hero.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677