You find out who your true friends are when you need them the most.
The glimmer of light through the darkness for Bill Metz and his family has been the way the Portage community has opened its arms to them in the wake of their tragedy.
"I've told more than one person that Portage is a wonderful town," Metz said. "If you don't think so, wait until you need help and you'll find out."
Metz has been experiencing that compassion the last three months. On July 10, his son Jeff was seriously injured in a confrontation outside an Orlando, Fla., club. Complications left him paralyzed from the chest down. A 2001 Portage grad, Jeff was the goalie on Indians soccer teams that won two regionals and reached the final four his senior year. He also punted on the football team. Jeff played soccer at St. Francis University in Fort Wayne and officiated soccer and football games with his dad for several years before getting a job with Ecolab in Davanport, Fla., in May 2011.
The circumstances surrounding his fateful encounter remain a mystery, in part because Jeff doesn't remember, in part because no one saw it, or if they did, they're not saying. Based on the information gathered, Jeff was leaving the club where he'd met co-workers. A security person told Orlando Police he saw Metz and an unknown having words on the sidewalk. He told them to let it go and the men briefly walked in opposite directions. Moments later, Metz was found unconscious, having sustained a head injury. Bill said it appears Jeff was struck from behind, but it's unknown if his injuries were a result of being punched or his head hitting the ground.
Surveillance video only showed a man fleeing the scene. Two possible witnesses have also not been identified. Despite the efforts of Fox 35 News in Orlando, there has been no progress in the case. Bill said the tourist nature of the city, with so many people coming and going, hampers the investigation.
"The No. 1 question is why, and there's no answer at this point," said Bill, a 1973 Portage grad who played football for Les Klein. "I saw a quote on TV. A man was talking about his injured son, saying there's no pain like that of a parent watching their child suffer. I hope nobody has to find out."
Jeff underwent emergency surgery. He was placed in a medically-induced coma, which led to his spinal issues. While his brain function is strong, the paralysis remains and uncertainty lies ahead.
"If you talked to him on the phone, you wouldn't know there was an issue," Bill said. "He had really depressed periods, but he realizes what's going on and is dealing with it in a more positive way."
Jeff's mom, Florence Metz, has been in Atlanta, where Jeff was moved to a spine and brain institute, since July, staying with family. Jeff is scheduled for another surgery Monday and if all goes well, he will be discharged to come home Nov. 13. Bill is in the process of renovating their house to make it wheelchair accessible. Jeff will continue his rehabilitation in Chicago.
While Jeff's company insurance has helped tremendously, the Metzes are left with ponderous expenses, as the hospital bill alone exceeds $1 million.
In response, Portage has rallied to the cause. Florence's boss Lisa Magura coordinated the Fall Mall Crawl, a fundraiser to be held Saturday in the Portage Mall. Attorney Susan Kelly-Johnson and businessman Jeff Reeder are spearheading a Nov. 23 event at Nativity of Our Savior Church. Hobart boys soccer John Hutchins, who lives in Portage, has contacted Brian Pillar of the Hobart Elks to run a benefit cornhole tournament there Nov. 24.
"The support has been overwhelming; I'd be remiss if I didn't say it," Bill said. "I could tell you unbelievable stories. It brings tears to my eyes, how kind people have been."