By Peter Prengaman

Of the Sentinel

WOODBURN - Virginia and Jose Gasca hoped their elder son Jesus would have a chance to achieve the American dream.

While the Gascas, immigrants from Guanajuato Mexico, worked at nurseries here to put food on the table, at home they stressed the value of education. A better job. A bright future. Success. These things could be accomplished with education, they told their son.

Jesus, a second-grader at North Marion Elementary school, had listened well. Beyond learning to speak and read English, the young boy often served as a translator for his parents.

When Jesus died Feb. 3 from neck wounds sustained during a dog attack, the Gascas and the entire community of St. Luke Parish and North Marion Elementary School here felt the loss.

'They put so much hope in their eldest son,' said the Rev. Dave Zegar who celebrates the Spanish Mass at St. Luke's. 'I've been there many times to see people or kids die in similar situations, and it's not easy.'

The 20-year-old daughter of David and Celeste Ramon, family friends of the Gascas, was babysitting Jesus when the attack occurred Feb. 1. Riding his bike past the Ramons' dog, a

pit bullñchow that was chained,

Jesus was pulled off the bike and attacked. The dog bit Jesus repeatedly in the neck, leaving him unconscious.

'The dog wouldn't even let go until the owner came home,' explained Father Zegar, who heard the story when he went to the hospital to be with the family.

The priest said that many had tried in vain to force the dog to release his grip on the child's neck. When Jesus' mother tried, she was bitten. The pit-bull was euthanized the day of the attack.

After arriving at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland in a coma, Jesus never regained consciousness. On Feb. 3, the family took Jesus off life-support and the boy died within minutes.

Patti Book, the principal at North Marion Elementary, said that counselors and psychologists were working to help Jesus' classmates deal with and understand the loss.

'You can talk to little guys about someone being seriously hurt,' said Book, who's known Jesus since he enrolled as a kindergartner, 'but it's hard for them to understand. And death - that's really hard for them to understand.'

Book added that there has been an 'outpouring of support' for both the Ramons and Gascas. 'This is a migrant family and there are many needs,' she said.

A prayer service was held this past Monday at a funeral home here. The family is expected to send the body back to Mexico for burial. Jesus is survived by his parents and three-year-old brother, Jose.

A memorial fund in Jesus' name has been established at Mid-Valley Bank, P.O. Box 583, Woodburn, OR 97071. Donations will be used to help the family.