By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
They still expect him to come walking through the door at any moment, with his cheerful grin and energetic stride.
The family of 20-year-old Sultan resident Christian Fafnis-Horton is grieving his loss and trying to come to terms with the reality that he will not be returning home.
Fafnis-Horton was fatally injured by a gunshot wound to his upper body in Orangevale, Calif. on Aug 24. His friend, 20-year-old Thomas McGrath, was also struck by the bullet. McGrath and his girlfriend, Bianca O’Hara, attempted to save their friend’s life but were unsuccessful, and paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.
The circumstances of the shooting remain a mystery.
The three were sitting on an upstairs landing of an apartment complex located on Hazel Avenue in Orangevale when they were approached by two men described in police documents as wearing dark clothing. One of the men fired a weapon at the victims, after which they fled on foot.
The incident occurred just before 1 a.m. and remains under investigation by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Fafnis-Horton and McGrath were both 2011 graduates of Sultan High School. O’Hara graduated from Monroe High School, also in 2011.
For Fafnis-Horton’s family, it is difficult to accept to loss of a young man who was such a powerful life-force.
“Christian was not into drugs or involved in any way with gangs,” said his aunt, Sue Kathleen Fafnis-Horton. “He was a treasure to his family and never created problems for his mother while growing up.”
Fafnis-Horton loved nature, and had traveled to California in hopes of earning some money with his friend, McGrath, and possibly hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, said family members. He loved animals and being outdoors. He loved life.
“When he went fishing, he caught the fish with his bare hands,” said Sue Kathleen Fafnis-Horton. She added that he would then return the fish to the river, “always with a big smile on his face.”
After experiencing California for less than a month, Fafnis-Horton had decided that he wanted to come home. He had plans to return to Sultan, and had purchased an Amtrak ticket. He would have returned Aug. 26. He was engaged to Brittney Nicholas, who graduated from Monroe High School in 2011.
Fafnis-Horton lived in Sultan with his mom, Diana Horton, an employee at the Monroe Correctional Complex, and his 17-year-old sister, Shaelynn Horton.
“He would be a peacemaker if any problems were brought to his attention,” said his aunt. “His sister Shaelynn adored him.”
Fafnis-Horton’s family all agree that the young man would have done anything for his sister.
Since graduating from Sultan High School in 2011, Fafnis-Horton had been spending a lot of time in Gold Bar with his grandfather, Vietnam Veteran Virgil Horton. Horton recalled his grandson’s bare-handed fishing techniques during a recent trip to the river Fafnis-Horton had taken with his sister.
“He picked it up and showed everybody,” said Horton.
His grandfather remembered buying him a lot of toy dinosaurs when he was growing up because his favorite movie was Jurassic Park.
“He was my grandson and I loved him to death; the last two years since he got out of high school he was over here all the time,” said Horton.
And he often had some type of critter with him, whether it was a snake, a lizard or one of the salmon that he tossed back into the river. Horton said that Fafnis-Horton had decided to not participate in hunting, because “he couldn’t stand the thought of shooting an animal.”
“Christian was just like the perfect all-American kid. He loved everyone… tried to protect everyone,” said Horton. “His big thing was making sure that his mom and his sister were alright.”
Fafnis-Horton talked with his grandfather about things he wanted out of life, possible goals and ideas. Things like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, joining the military, and playing football, maybe even for the Seahawks. And he wanted to save lives, said Horton.
“It’s hard to say what would have happened if he would have lived longer. Maybe he would have changed things,” said Horton. “Christian had a mind that was just unbelievable.”
Horton will miss his grandson, who had become his “right-hand person” in the past two years since he had graduated from high school.
“Everybody’s life that he touched; they just fell in love with him,” said Horton. “He was the perfect grandson.”
The family is working out the details of bringing Fafnis-Horton home. They are hoping that the people responsible for his death will be brought to justice soon.
“It’s so shocking and out-of-nowhere. It’s so traumatic it doesn’t truly register; it doesn’t click in your mind,” said family member Tiffnie Bachmann, Gold Bar resident. “You just expect him to walk through the door.”
Bachmann described her cousin Diana’s son as funny, witty, selfless and extremely smart. He loved music, everything from classic rock to modern hip hop.
“He was a goofball. He did a lot of things that made people laugh,” said Bachmann. “He was extremely passionate about life in general and lived every day as full as he possibly could.”
Fafnis-Horton’s friends, McGrath and O’Hara, have returned to Sultan from California. They have been asked to not discuss the investigation, as have the members of his family.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office is looking into possible motives surrounding the incident. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the crime to contact the homicide bureau at (916) 874-5115.