Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Michelle Ryan recalls Sept. 27, 2013, the day a pit bull fatally mauled her 5-year-old son

By Chris Collins


Michelle Ryan has the details of her son's death committed to memory, minute by minute.

At 9:04 the morning of Sept. 27, 2013, her three children were playing on the floor at Mary Lane's home, where Michelle planned to leave the kids for a "play date" while she went to work.

The times marking the tragedy are clear in Michelle's head because she was checking her phone to ensure she made it to her out-of-town job as a home care provider on time that morning.

Michelle and Mary both grew up in Baker City and had become reacquainted through Nathan Craig, Michelle's fiance at the time.

Michelle said she took her kids to play at Mary's house that morning after her efforts to find a baby sitter fell flat.

(Michelle's sister actually responded in a text message agreeing to watch her niece and nephews, but Michelle never received the text.)

Mary happened to call while Michelle was rushing to find a place to leave her kids and offered a helping hand. Mary said the Ryan children could come and play with her own kids while she cleaned house.

When Michelle and her three arrived, Mary locked her pit bull in a bedroom.

"She knew I didn't feel comfortable with having my kids around the dog," Michelle said, even though the kids had met the dog before and there had been no problems between them.

"My gut feeling was 'don't ever trust those dogs around my kids,' " Michelle said.

But what Michelle didn't know is that Mary had recently adopted a second pit bull. That dog was kept in the fenced backyard at Mary's home at 1947 14th St., just south of Broadway.

The two women also were unaware that during the few seconds while Michelle and Mary talked that morning, the children had gone outside to look at the new dog.

Then Michelle's 5-year-old, Jordan Ryan, was left outside by himself while the others went back in the house.

At 9:05 a.m., Michelle recalls, as she was headed to her car on her way to work and talked on the phone with her mom, she heard a "blood-curdling scream" from Mary instructing her to call 9-1-1.

The 9-1-1 dispatcher picked up the phone at 9:06 a.m.

Michelle remembers hearing Mary's daughter say: "Mommy, the baby's getting chewed" as she walked out the door.

That comment, coupled with the scream for help, sent Michelle running back to the house in a panic.

Michelle said she propelled herself through the house to the backyard where she saw Jordan lying on the ground in a pool of blood.

"It literally looked like there was a land mine and he'd stepped on a land mine," she said.

But the power that ended her little boy's life that Friday morning was delivered, not by the force of an explosion, but by the jaws of an attacking pit bull.

Jordan was covered in blood and dirt, but Michelle saw only the side of him that hadn't been attacked.

"I freaked out," she said. "I went from emergency to complete panic mode."

Michelle said the 9-1-1 dispatcher instructed her to return to the house to wait for emergency responders as she struggled to calm herself.

"I was conflicting between passing out and throwing up," she said.

What happened next was a blur of police officers who worked to secure the scene, comfort Michelle and make sure others were safe, and paramedics who did their best to get Jordan to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Michelle would later learn that her son's heart stopped beating on the way to St. Alphonsus Medical Center and that ambulance workers had started CPR even before they arrived at the emergency room.

"Deep down I knew from the moment I saw him in that backyard - I knew he wasn't going to make it," Michelle said.

The time at the hospital also passed in a blur as she again struggled to keep from passing out.

And then the emergency room doctor, Steven Delashmutt, came out to talk to her. She said she sat down with Nathan Craig by her side as Delashmutt, with tears in his eyes, told them her son would not recover.

"He said 'you know, we're just not going to make it,' " Michelle recalls. " 'I'm sorry - he's just lost so much blood.' "

At that point, Michelle said she left the room, reeling from the shock.

A year and 10 months later, Michelle has begun to feel comfortable talking about what happened and agreed to be interviewed for this story.

The tragedy was felt throughout Baker City as the entire community joined in grieving Jordan's death. More than 150 people attended a public memorial for the boy on Sept. 29, 2013. The crowd gathered outside the kindergarten classroom where Jordan had started school just a few weeks earlier.

Craig Davidson, a former Baker City Police officer who was one of the first to respond to the dog attack, has since left the department. He was unable to shake the horror of Jordan's death and had trouble coping with the trauma afterward.

Michelle says she still feels concern for the police, ambulance crew and hospital workers who were part of the rescue effort.

"Not a day goes by I don't feel heartbroken for those people," she said.

Michelle's life, needless to say, also was changed forever that day.

"He was 5," she says. "I'll never see him ride his bike again, I'll never see him go to prom or see him graduate high school."

Her relationship with her fiance quickly fell apart as she was grieving.

And she became overbearing with her two older children, which she attributes to the guilt she carried.

"The guilt of not being there with Jordan when that attack happened," she said. "I was overwhelmed with guilt."

She no longer speaks with Mary, whose dog was euthanized three days after Jordan was killed.

In October 2013, the District Attorney's Office announced that a grand jury ruled there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges in connection with the boy's death. Investigators found no evidence that Mary's pit bull, which she had adopted a month and a half earlier, had acted aggressively toward people in the past.

Michelle returned to work two weeks after Jordan's death, but she later lost her job when her employers closed their business. She is looking for another job.

Michelle and her children moved seven times in the aftermath of Jordan's death, including a stint on the Oregon Coast. Finally, they settled in with her parents, Robert and Lori Horn, at their Baker City home.

"That's what moms and dads are for," Robert Horn says.

Jordan's ashes, along with those of a Teddy bear he was given at the hospital the day he died, are stored in urns kept in a lighted corner hutch at their home.

Michelle says she tries not to focus on her son's death for the sake of her 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and her 8-year-old son, Carlos.

Jordan would have turned 7 on June 18 of this year.

"Every day of my life I'm going to miss him," Michelle says. "He'll still be a big, huge part of my life."

See more in Friday's issue of the Baker City Herald.