Jake Donham, who was last seen Jan. 7, is remembered for his 'kind heart'
The body of a Meadow Vista veteran and resident whose disappearance prompted community-wide searches this month, was found in Lake Combie Lake on Monday.
Jake Donham, 39, was last seen Jan. 7 at a neighbor’s home disoriented and confused, said Courtney Carson, Donham’s ex-wife and mother of his two children. After the concerned neighbor called law enforcement, Donham disappeared.
Donham, who lived alone, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2000 and served one tour in Iraq, Carson said. He had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder, and his family and friends thought that may be why he went missing, she said.
“It was not like him to go missing,” Carson said Thursday. “It had not happened before.”
After law enforcement’s initial search, the Meadow Vista community rallied together online and created a forum of people interested in helping find the lost veteran. The online group followed leads and organized two in-person searches around where Donham disappeared.
“I thought it was wonderful that everybody, even people who didn’t know Jake, showed up to help search for him,” said Carson, who attended both community search events and searched on her own. “They were all hopeful he would come back and get the help he needed. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”
On Monday, a friend found Donham’s shoe on the shore of Lake Combie, Carson said. Another friend came out to the lake with his drone and spotted Donham’s body floating in the lake, she said. The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team recovered Donham on Monday night, said Capt. Jeff Tettitt of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.
Carson said family and friends do not know what happened between when Donham went missing and his death. Tettitt said an autopsy will be performed. Donham owned a jet ski and was known to recreate on the lake, which was just a mile and a half from his home, Carson said.
Carson, their children and those who knew Donham are facing a huge loss.
“Jake had a really good personality,” Carson said. “He was funny and fun to be around. He was always doing goofy things just to make people smile and laugh. He was just an all-around good guy who served his country and cared about his two kids and family.”
Marci Allendale, who knew Donham for more than 20 years, remembers his “kind-hearted spirit.”
“He had a heart of gold and would give the shirt off his back if you needed it,” Allendale said in an email to the Auburn Journal. “He would always have a smile on his face from ear to ear no matter the circumstances, always looking at the positive. He had a way of making everyone feel comfortable and always willing to lend a hand.”
Jeremiah Slack said Donham was over at his house for family occasions for the last 28 years and remembers him over at his house daily working on cars, riding bikes or motorcycles and attending events together.
“He was a true friend, loving family member, true-hearted individual,” Slack said. “He was always there for the fun times, and the hard times. He would go out of his way to help someone in need and was one of the most caring and true people one could ever know.”
Slack’s father, Andy, and step-mother Lynda remembered how eager to help Donham was.
“He was one of the kindest, most helpful souls in the world,” Andy and Lynda said in an email to the Journal. “He will always hold a place in our hearts and minds, we will always love him and he will be missed dearly.”
Slack’s grandmother, Bonnie, considered Donham family.
“He was always there to lend a hand, have fun, or get in trouble like the rest of the kids,” she said. “He always brought a smile to my face.”
Amanda Snow-Dodson, who dated Donham in high school at Del Oro, remembered his “goofy” and “confident” personality. Snow-Dodson said the two were still close friends and talked often.
“Jake was extremely outgoing, loving, loyal, and his smile and laugh are something I will never forget,” she said. “When I think of him, I immediately picture his smile. He loved people and more than anything else he loved his kids. Without even knowing, he made an impact on a lot of people. He made this world brighter. He is truly going to be missed.”