For 21-year-old Jake Cushman, the drive to be a crime scene investigator starts with his dad.

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For 21-year-old Jake Cushman, the drive to be a crime scene investigator starts with his dad.

The recent Portland Community College graduate said that growing up in Vancouver, he was proud of his father, Adam Cushman, who worked as a criminalist for the Portland Police Bureau. The two were close, enjoying the same “nerdy” interest such as “Star Wars” and superheroes. Together, they loved watching the show “Smallville,” a show that depicts a young Clark Kent as he comes to terms with his superpowers.

But one Sunday night in February 2010, Adam Cushman was killed in a crash on his way home from work.

A dump truck driver was driving in the 7300 block of Northeast 182nd Avenue when his engine stalled. His truck was partially in the northbound lanes, and the driver turned off the truck’s lights to restart it. The truck was rolling backward when it was struck by Cushman’s Honda Accord.

Adam Cushman was pronounced dead at the scene.

“He was supposed to be bringing us pizza, and he didn’t make it home,” Jake Cushman said. “It’s always been tough to deal with it. Nobody has to be at fault; it was just a fluke.”

Jake Cushman, who was 13 at the time, said the loss shut him down. But one of the things that helped him through that time and the next few years was his father’s co-workers. They brought him and his little brother Christmas presents and came out to help with the yardwork.

And because they knew that Jake Cushman wanted to be a criminalist, like his father, they started taking him to the shooting range, something he said his dad would have eventually done with him.

“We were just gradually getting him used to some of the skills you’re going to need as a police officer,” said Paul Ware, a criminalist at the Portland Police Bureau. At the Portland bureau, criminalists — or crime scene investigators — are also sworn police officers.

Ware worked alongside Adam Cushman for years, sharing an office cubicle and working the same shift. Ware called Adam Cushman competitive, always keeping track of who took the most photographs at crime scenes and who logged the most evidence. He was also into the high-tech tools used to analyze a scene and always wanted the latest and greatest, Ware said.

After Adam Cushman died, including his children in various things was a given, Ware said.

When Jake Cushman got to Union High School, he kept on the path to law enforcement, taking criminal justice courses at what is now called Cascadia Technical Academy. During his senior year, when it came time to do an internship, he called and left a message with Ware to see if he could work with him.

When Ware called back, the first thing he said was: “When do you want to start?”

So Cushman began working every Saturday, doing the same 12-hour shift as Ware. The schedule allowed him to help instruct some classes for those in their first year at Cascadia Technical Academy.

Within 15 minutes on his first day of the internship, Cushman was told to get ready — he was going with Ware to process the scene of a suicide.

“I was a little concerned about what I would see, about what I would not be able to unsee,” Cushman said.

His emotions were high, he said, while he dealt with the family of the deceased person sitting across the street. At the same time, he was being introduced to other first responders as the Cushman boy, shaking hands and being told things about his father.

“All that’s going on and I’m trying to deal with the sadness, this happiness,” he said. “I’m meeting my dad’s life, the side I that didn’t see of him. … I felt closer to him.”

While he did see some graphic things, Cushman said, he remembered something his father told him.

“My dad always said, ‘When you go into the job, you use God-colored glasses,’ ” he said. He explained that “you can look at something hideous and morbid and gross … and be able to see things through the perspective that you’re doing good.”

It was a long, tough day, but Cushman said it didn’t deter him. He kept the internship going after graduation from Union High School in 2014 and into his time at Portland Community College.

“That day I really realized why he did this,” he said. “What’s so fulfilling about helping somebody who is deceased as opposed to living is that they can’t help themselves … they can’t respond, they can’t tell you what happened … you have to solve that without their assistance.”

Ware said that working with Jake Cushman, he saw some of the same qualities that he saw in his father, Adam Cushman. The son was competitive, paying close attention when learning the many ways you can compare fingerprints.

And while his father was the one who drove him to pursue a career in crime scene investigation, Cushman said that he became enthralled in the behind-the-scenes police work.

“There’s a lot of math and science involved, which I never thought that I would love, but now I see there’s a reason for some of that stuff,” he said. “It’s just a cool way to help people, using your brain instead of your body. Not every hero punches through walls.”

Speaking of heroes, Cushman’s interest in Superman never stopped.

In high school, he bought a Spandex Superman suit and wore it to Comic-Con in Portland, where he was spotted by members of the Portland Superheroes Coalition. He’d already been keeping his eye on the organization, which attends fundraiser and community events, so he was thrilled when they asked him to join.

After about a year of playing the part of Superman, Cushman said his favorite part is seeing the children light up when they visit children’s hospitals.

“Those kids think that you’re the real deal, and they’re not having an easy time if they’re there,” he said.

The work is heart-warming, he said, but is also keeping alive another connection to his dad.

Cushman is planning to attend Washington State University Vancouver this fall to continue studying criminal justice, and while he does, he plans to keep doing the volunteer work. He says he sees his career goals and dressing up in spandex and a cape as connected.

“At the end of the day, it’s about letting people know that they’re safe. It’s about letting people know that the world’s not bad,” he said.