Family hopes cemetery dispute will heal divides between FLDS and non-FLDS

Published: Sunday, Jan. 9 2011 12:08 a.m. MST

AngelLee Stubbs, left, with older sister LeVonica, 9, in a photograph on a poster hanging in their mother's room at Kolob Regional Care and Rehabilitation Center.

Ryan Pedersen for KSL

COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — Melting snow and footprints formed in mud frame the small mound of freshly dug dirt on the east side of Isaac Carling Memorial Cemetery.

Atop the mound rests a multicolored plush rattle and a few dozen purple and white flowers. At its base, a temporary nameplate in the shape of an angel identifies the spot as the grave of AngelLee Heart Stubbs.

Her death was tragic. Just 10 months into her young life, AngelLee was killed when a van being driven by her mother collided with and was crushed by a loaded garbage truck.

Her burial was contentious. As a member of a non-FLDS family living in the traditionally FLDS border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, she was deemed by some to be not worthy of burial next to her grandfather.

Today, as tensions build between many faithful followers of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs and those who've chosen to leave the religion but not the community, AngelLee's parents are hoping their daughter can become a symbol of peace and healing.

"She was an absolute angel. We totally picked a perfect name for her," AngelLee's mother, Violet Jessop, said from her hospital bed at Kolob Regional Care and Rehabilitation in Cedar City. "She was just a real special spirit."

A poster decorated with photos of AngelLee and handwritten messages to the girl hangs on one wall of the recovery room Jessop temporarily calls home while physically and emotionally healing from the Dec. 6 accident and the events that followed.

"She loved everybody, and she always had a smile for everybody," Jessop told the Deseret News.

Love, the girl's parents say, is what's missing from their community. Too often neighbors and family members are made to feel like outsiders in a town where many of them were raised.

The so-called "apostates" who no longer consider themselves members of the FLDS religion say they often are shunned by their FLDS neighbors despite church teachings to love one another.

Members of the community say it's a schism that has been around for decades but has gotten much wider since 2002, when Jeffs took over as church leader. And as that divide continues to grow, non-FLDS residents fear that what so far has been akin to schoolyard bullying could soon become violent.

"You literally have the Middle East waiting to happen on the Utah and Arizona borders," said Ezra Draper, who years ago left the FLDS religion but has chosen to reside in the community.

Leroy Stubbs, AngelLee's father, wants to prevent that from happening. Together, he and Draper are drafting a declaration of peace to present to FLDS Church leaders. The tricky part, Stubbs said, will be getting church leadership to meet with them.

"We don't have to believe the same, but we can be kind and considerate to one another," he said. "We can decide to live in harmony and agree to disagree on our beliefs."

Stubbs is among those who say division between FLDS and non-FLDS is destroying their community.

Last week, Stubbs watched as his own brother attempted to stop a graveside service for AngelLee. Colorado City police stepped in and physically blocked Donovan Stubbs and another FLDS representative from getting within a few hundred feet of the burial site.

Witnesses say that intervention likely prevented an emotionally charged situation from escalating into physical violence. Still, three members of the FLDS faith, including cemetery sexton Guy Jessop Jr., circulated among the mourners, disrupting the proceedings by taking pictures and shooting video of what took place and documenting who was in attendance.

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