On Sunday a Crescenta Valley family received the news that their son, Nick Steinbacher, serving in Iraq, had been killed during a night patrol on Dec. 10. He had just celebrated his 22nd birthday on Dec. 8.
"We've changed the doorbell since then," the soldier's brother, Dan Steinbacher, said Tuesday. He explained that his mother didn't want to hear the sound of the bell again as it only reminded her of the arrival of the horrible news.
Nick Steinbacher, a 2003 graduate of Crescenta Valley High School, entered the United States Army First Calvary Infantry division on Dec. 24, 2004. He was deployed to Iraq on Oct. 29 of this year. According to information provided by the military, Nick was on a night patrol with members of his company when a roadside bomb went off near his Humvee.
"His skydiving instructor contacted us. He said he died securing his company's safety," Dan said. "We also got an e-mail from one of the guys in his company. He said that Nick was the spirit of their company." The soldier that e-mailed the family had been injured in the same attack and had lost a leg from the knee down.
The family does not have information on the rest of the members of Nick's company but has been told there were some who were injured but survived.
"My heart is broken but my heart goes out to the guys still there," Dan said. "I don't know their names but they have really taken some major hits and they have a long road to home. Nick's done. He doesn't have to worry about it anymore."
Nick's parents, Carolyn and Paul Steinbacher, graduated from Crescenta Valley High School. Their sons Nick and Dan followed suit. The Steinbachers' youngest son, Kirk, is a CVHS senior. Paul, Dan and Nick all played football at CVHS. At one point, Dan was coaching, Nick was playing and Paul was in the stands.
"Nick played football all four years. Dad played football at CVHS and Nick wore his number," Dan said. "He was proud to be able to wear the number 51. I wore it, too."
The school is feeling the loss of one of their own. The flag in front of the school is being flown at half staff.
"We are just devastated, the parents are close to the school," said Mike Livingston, CVHS co-principal. "Nick's dad graduated my first year here [in 1974]."
Co-principal Linda Evans said the Steinbacher family has been very active with the school. At one point during the conversation she paused and looked away. "I can hear his voice right now," she said.
Once someone met Nick he was easily remembered, according to his older brother. He was social and extremely well liked. "He got in and out of trouble quicker than anyone I know," Dan said.
Although he was very social and pragmatic, at the core was a fierce dedication and sense of responsibility to his beliefs, his brother said.
"I don't feel the world is black and white, but for him [it was] put his money where his mouth is [by going to Iraq]. He felt he was right. He was not a person who would sit back and let things happen. We are very proud of that," Dan said.
Nick had planned on joining the Special Operations division and then, when he returned to the United States, wanted to join law enforcement. He was a natural leader and had a strong bond with his company of soldiers.
"When he was here on leave [a few months ago] he was calling people [in his company], making certain they made their plane," Dan said.
Although still trying to come to terms with their loss, the family is trying to focus on the energy Nick brought to life.
"One thing my brother loved to do is skydive. He started doing it [in the Army] training. The first time he jumped, he broke his leg, but he loved it," Dan said. "He wanted us all to go. We may do it as a family to honor him … we have a few pictures of him in his [skydiving] gear; he looks elated, he just wanted everyone to do it. That is what we are focusing on — [images] of him just falling free."
The family also wanted to express their thanks to everyone in the community who has visited their home this week with pictures and stories.
"Anyone who has stories or pictures should stop by. We like hearing these stories," Dan said. "Sometimes you forget that we live in this small town, but a tragedy like this brings out the true nature of people. We are so blessed to have the support of La Crescenta, family and friends and the support from CVHS. This town is incredibly supportive."
Dan and his family wanted people to remember Nick for his life's energy and to live life to the fullest, like he did.
"He didn't sit back and watch life, he did life. He was not a passive observer. He made a big impact for being only 22."
A memorial service had not been set as of press deadline Wednesday.