CORPUS CHRISTI—Jonathan McComb lost his wife and two children to floodwaters nearly four and a half years ago, but he did not lose his faith.
The McCombs were enjoying Memorial Day weekend with friends when a fallen tree propelled by a wall of water swept away the house where they were vacationing on the banks of the rapidly rising Blanco River near Wimberley.
McComb’s wife Laura was killed on their 10th wedding anniversary, along with 4-year-old Leighton and 6-year-old Andrew. Of the 11 people in the house at that time, only Jonathan McComb survived.
In recent months, McComb has talked about the tragedy in a few venues, but he wasn’t ready to speak to his home church, First Baptist in Corpus Christi until the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
“This is a tough story,” he told the congregation at the Nov. 24 worship service. “I’ve told my testimony at different churches and different functions. I didn’t know how I would react doing it here at home and kind of put it off for a while.”
‘Picture-perfect day’ turned tragic
The fateful day in 2015 that ended in tragedy began with a long walk with the children and dog before breakfast, he said.
“It was a picture-perfect day,” McComb said, recalling time spent grilling, watching the children floating in the river in innertubes and visiting with friends.
Late afternoon, it began to rain but seemed like “nothing to be alarmed about,” he said.
Since it wasn’t uncommon for the river to overflow its banks on occasion, the house where the McCombs and their friends were staying was built on stilts. They believed they were well-prepared for any rising water, he noted.
When the storm intensified and the water reached a point where it was 12 to 18 inches high in the garage, McComb and a friend went inside the house to wake the sleeping children, just in case they needed to move to an even higher elevation.
“By the time we got everybody up and down to the living room, the water was already 6 feet high,” he said. “And that took about 15 minutes.”
At that point, water surrounded the house. McComb broke a window on the back side of the house. Standing on an air-conditioning unit, he tried unsuccessfully to tie a water hose to a nearby tree to provide a means of escape.
Swept down the river
Soon after he reentered the house, the electricity went out, and everyone inside heard a loud “thud,” he said. A large cypress tree had fallen, knocking the house off its foundation and into the river.
Soon after Laura McComb called 911 on her cell phone, the house hit a bridge in Wimberley, shearing away the second story of the rapidly moving building. Next, the house hit a tree in the water, splitting in half what remained of the structure.
“I still have very vivid memories of what Laura was wearing, what Leighton was wearing—a little nightgown with hearts on it—and Andrew in his dinosaur shirt and little shorts,” McComb told the congregation.
The family became separated from their seven friends, one by one. When consecutive walls of water destroyed what remained of the tiny pallet McComb and his family had clung to, he found himself repeatedly drawn underwater and buffeted by debris.
“At this point, I know that I’ve lost my friends and my family. I’m underwater. I’m tired. And I don’t want to live anymore,” he said.
“So, as I’m underwater, I can remember praying. And I said: ‘God, I’ve lost them all. And I want to go with them right now.’ And I went totally limp underwater, planning on dying.”
McComb hit a rock underwater. Jarred by the impact, he took it as a “wake-up call from God.” He renewed his efforts to stay afloat, clinging to driftwood. In time, he reached an embankment, climbed a steep cliff and eventually reached a house on a high ridge, where its residents called an ambulance.
Dealing with trauma
McComb initially was taken to an emergency room in San Marcos and then transferred to a trauma center in San Antonio. He learned he had a punctured lung, broken sternum, broken ribs, multiple lacerations and a severely injured leg.
For several days, he recalled lying in a hospital bed, staring at ceiling tiles, crying, praying and coming to the realization many others also were crying, praying and searching for lost loved ones. Gradually, he found comfort in the promise of everlasting life and the assurance he eventually would be reunited with the family he loved.
McComb recalled going to an emergency response center set up at First Baptist Church in Wimberley, where he learned Andrew’s body had been recovered.
“I got up and walked out. I didn’t need to hear anything else,” he said. “I walked out the back door of that church, and I fell to my knees, and I cried. Then I prayed. I prayed and thanked God for the six years I had with Andrew and what a joy it was to be his dad.”
Laura McComb’s body was recovered several days later. Her husband identified her by the wedding ring on her finger. Searchers never found Leighton’s remains.
“Throughout those days, I saw a lot of good come out of something very bad,” McComb said. “I saw relationships renewed with God. I saw relationships renewed with friends.”
As he spoke to his home church, McComb honestly acknowledged he struggled with the trauma in the weeks and months that followed. He experienced sleepless nights and sometimes had suicidal thoughts.
“The farther I got away from God, the harder it was. The closer I would get to God, the better I could understand, deal with, cope and share my story to help somebody else,” he said. “We serve a great God.”
Blessing of memory and of new life
Rather than seeing the vivid memories of every moment of the traumatic day as a curse, McComb began to view it as a blessing, because he had the assurance he did everything humanly possible to save his family and friends.
McComb also believes God gave him a message to share with others who experience heartbreak.
“I don’t know where anybody is in their life right now, or what people are going through, or what challenges will be ahead,” he said. “But the closer you get to God, your problems aren’t going to go away, but coping with them will be easier.”
Looking ahead to Thanksgiving, McComb expressed thanks for the assurance that while death separated him from his wife and children for now, they will see each other again.
“I was blessed to have Laura and Andrew and Leighton for the years that I did,” he said. “And God has even blessed me again.”
McComb remarried earlier this year, and he announced at the worship service before Thanksgiving that he and his wife are expecting a baby.
He gave thanks for the part First Baptist Church in Corpus Christi played in his life, recalling that he was baptized there and married there. He chaired the search committee that brought Pastor Brian Hill to the church. In fact, the new pastor’s second Sunday at First Baptist was the weekend of the Blanco River tragedy.
Jonathan McComb recalled how he and Laura appeared with baby Andrew as Joseph, Mary and Jesus in a Christmas play in the church’s sanctuary. And he spoke at his family’s memorial service there.
“But I think this might be the most important time I’ve spoken up here—to let you know whatever you’re going through, whatever you’re going to be up against, God is there for you,” he said. “Turn to him. Trust him. Lean on him. Talk to him. He’s there for you every time.”