Written for The Argus Observer. Printed on July 7, 2015.
ADRIAN, OR — Fourteen-year-old Thomas Findling Jr. lost his life this weekend, and his parents, Thomas Findling, 45, and Jennifer Findling, 39, are in the University of Utah burn center in Salt Lake City after a fire started in their house early Sunday morning.
“I guess what happened was Jen had a hold of Tom’s hand, and she tripped and he went back in,” said Lou Johnson, Thomas’ aunt. “They found him underneath his window in his room.”
Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said dispatch received a call regarding a house fire at 6:33 a.m. Sunday at 2589 Twilight Drive, 10 miles outside of Adrian.
“What happened was the two adults woke up to a fire alarm going off,” Wolfe said. “The two adults tried to save the 14-year-old and were not able to.”
Adrian Fire Department arrived on scene first. Both adults had gotten out of the house but told responders their son hadn’t made it out. He died on scene.
The fire was contained within an hour, according to Adrian’s assistant fire chief, George Martin.
Johnson and Thomas’ great-great grandmother, Lucille Findling, visited the house late Monday morning to place a basket of flowers on the front porch and take a few moments to mourn their loss.
“Tom was a really good football player,” Johnson said. “He was so excited to start next season. He was so young, and it was too soon.”
Wolfe said the Findlings both suffered major burns and were taken to the Utah burn center.
“They’re still in the burn center, and last night was uneventful, so that’s a good thing,” Johnson said on Monday. “They said the first 48 hours are the worst, so they made it through that.”
Adrian Fire and Ambulance, Vale Fire and Treasure Valley Paramedics all assisted Nyssa Fire on the blaze, but the house succumbed to the flames.
Oregon State Police and the state fire marshall both have been to the home and have conducted their investigations, but the cause of the fire is still unknown.
“There are remnants of fireworks in the area, there was a campfire outside, and there were also cigarette butts found in the area,” Wolfe said.
He said investigators found no evidence that it was an electrical fire and that most likely the culprit was either fireworks, cigarettes, or the campfire.
“We have a few more interviews to do and then, unless something comes up that leads us in a different direction, that’s it,” Wolfe said.