Eleven days ago, Pierre Gibbons and Annette Lujan were talking on the phone and making plans for his upcoming visit to Santa Fe when a late-night knock on the door at Gibbons’ Baltimore home cut their call short.
“He said, ‘I’ve got to go. I’ll call you back,’ ” Lujan recalled of the Sept. 23 telephone conversation.
“I guess somebody must’ve knocked on his door and let him know there was a fire,” said Lujan, who later learned that her friend ran into a burning building to save an elderly neighbor.
His heroic actions had life-changing consequences.
The 57-year-old former Santa Fe High School football player, who had been planning to attend last weekend’s celebration of his team’s 1979 state championship, suffered critical injuries in the blaze and had to be rescued himself by firefighters. On Thursday, he was clinging to life in a Baltimore hospital’s intensive care unit.
“Pierre has taken a turn for the worst — he’s now on life support,” Lujan said shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday. “They were giving him last rites about a half-hour ago. Whether he makes it or not, we don’t know.”
The sad news came after a glimmer of hope last week, when Gibbons’ family reported he was making progress.
“Our Dad Pierre is hearing your prayers because every day he is improving so keep them coming,” his son, Jeremiah, wrote on Facebook. “His entire body is burned deeply and very badly, yet the swelling has reduced somewhat. His heart looks great at the moment even though [it’s] running a full time marathon trying to keep him alive.”
By Thursday, though, his family and friends were hoping for a miracle.
Jeremiah Gibbons, a firefighter and EMT with the Baltimore City Fire Department, reported that his father was on “full life support.”
“This is not good for his organs being that he has 70% burns to his body because the immune system is needed in so many ways right now,” Jeremiah Gibbons wrote in a Facebook post that generated dozens of comments wishing his father well. “He is getting the best care [and] he has an entire [intensive care unit] team working all the different options on him now. All that we can ask for is prayers and that you play some [Johnny] Cash for Dad. He needs God and US now more than ever. He is a fighter.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, Pierre Gibbons saw a house across the street on fire and immediately rushed in to save a woman who was trapped inside.
“We didn’t realize that he would run into a burning building,” his daughter, Taylor Gibbons, 25, told the newspaper. “That kind of selflessness is unmatched.”
Taylor Gibbons told the newspaper her father reached the woman’s basement and carried her to the first floor but collapsed when overcome by smoke.
Lujan said a video shows a man believed to be Pierre Gibbons run into the fiery inferno.
“I think when they couldn’t get out of the house, he put his body on top of hers,” she said, adding that Pierre Gibbons suffered severe burn injuries to his legs and knees.
“On his knees, it burned down to his bones,” she said.
The woman who Pierre Gibbons carried up from the basement survived the fire, but no update on her condition was available Thursday. The Baltimore City Fire Department, which on the night of the fire said she was hospitalized in serious condition, did not return messages seeking comment this week.
A GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $50,000 for Pierre Gibbons’ medical and recovery expenses had raised more than $27,000 from 361 donors as of Thursday afternoon.
“Pierre is a testament to selfless acts of kindness,” one of the donors, David Anderson, wrote on the GoFundMe website. “He deserves the support of his community.”
Lujan, who had a casual friendship with Pierre Gibbons in high school, said they reconnected and developed a close relationship after a high school reunion in Santa Fe about 10 years ago.
“We were planning on kind of spending more time together, kind of more of a romantic thing,” she said. “We were looking forward to re-meeting again.”
Lujan said Pierre Gibbons was preparing to spend two weeks in Santa Fe.
“We were planning on spending these two weeks together and just having fun,” she said. “He wanted to go see the mountains. He wanted to do some different things, mostly outdoor stuff. But he was excited about going to the Santa Fe mountains, just seeing all the beauty here — he loved it here.”
Lujan said the primary reason Pierre Gibbons planned to return to Santa Fe was to join in a celebration marking the 40th anniversary of Santa Fe High’s Class 4A football championship, as well as high school reunion activities.
According to his son, Pierre Gibbons played the position of tight end and caught the touchdown pass that took the Santa Fe Demons to the state championship game.
“For the football reunion, we got a jersey for him,” she said. “I had his number and his name put on it. I got it signed by all the coaches and all of the players that he played high school ball with.”
Brad Church, son of former Santa Fe High School football coach David Church, said Pierre Gibbons was “on everybody’s minds and prayers” during the recent celebration. The team was honored at halftime during a Sept. 27 matchup between St. Michael’s High School and Santa Fe High. Before the game, an announcer asked the crowd to pray for Pierre Gibbons.
“Pierre Gibbons, Class of 1980, was severely injured and burned as he heroically saved the life of an elderly neighbor in a tragic house fire,” the announcer said. “We ask that you take a moment and turn your cellphone lights on and join the entire Demon family in wishing Pierre and his family prayers and well-wishes for a speedy and successful recovery.”
Brad Church called Pierre Gibbons a “great guy who was always respected by the team.”
“Pierre going in and doing what he did [to rescue] his neighbor is a reflection of how Pierre is, and a lot of those guys on the ’79 team are,” he said. “They’re willing to sacrifice for others with courage. I know he gave no thought of the risk to himself because he knew someone needed help, and he went in to save them without question.”
During last weekend’s football championship anniversary celebration and high school reunion, Lujan said, people who know Pierre Gibbons were not surprised by the account of his heroism.
“I could hear people saying, ‘Of course Pierre would do that. That is so Pierre,’ ” she said.
The tragic incident seemed to bring old classmates closer together, Lujan said.
“It affected us in the way that people appreciated each other more, and life more,” she said. “It just seemed like the football players, they had this bond and this love for each other. I just could feel it, you know?”
Lujan said David Church called her daily for news of how his former player was doing.
“Even after all these years, he still had this love for him,” she said. “I think this football team had such a bond, and I think that’s probably why they made state, because they were so bonded — and they still are 40 years later.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.