This moment is about two beautiful boys. How we got here is a story well known. But what we do here is up to us. This is going to be done in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth. —Pastor Dean Curry
TACOMA, Wash. — A community and families celebrated the innocence, energy, and smiles of two young boys on Saturday with memorial services and a candlelight vigil that brought words of hope, love and remembrance.
"This is not easy, but this is a celebration of life," Tim Sloan, a longtime friend of Chuck and Judy Cox, said at a funeral service for the Coxes' two grandsons.
Charlie and Braden Powell were killed a week ago by their father, Josh Powell, who also died after dousing his house and sons with gasoline and then setting his house on fire.
For nearly 2½ years — since the disappearance of Josh's wife, Susan Cox Powell — the Cox and Powell families have been entangled in a bitter feud with finger-pointing on both sides.
Saturday, both families temporarily set aside their differences as they remembered Charlie, Braden and Susan. A large number of relatives from the Cox family, including Kirk and Jennifer Graves, Josh Powell's sister from West Jordan, sat in front rows of the Life Center Church. About two dozen members of the Powell family, including Josh's other sister Alina and his mother, Terrica, sat in a balcony to avoid cameras and the main congregation.
There was no mention of Josh Powell during the memorial service in Tacoma, nor at a private service held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' South Hill Ward following the initial gathering. Members of the Powell family, including Terrica Powell, also attended at the LDS church.
The bodies of both boys were placed in a single, adult-sized blue casket in accordance with the wishes of the Cox family, who did not want the boys to be apart.
A very solemn Chuck Cox, who wore a purple tie and blue ribbon (purple is the color that has come to represent the search for his daughter and to keep her in the public's mind) thanked police and the community at the end of the service for their support for the past 2½ years.
"It helps us be strong. It helps us to know there are good people in the world, good people to fight against evil," he said.
At the private service in South Hill, Cox again, in a soft voice, thanked the community as well as all the social workers.
"Everyone did everything they could for these children," he said. One sole person is responsible for this event. I don't think it could have been stopped."
Several references were made throughout both services, including by Chuck Cox, that the children were now with their mother, who went missing in West Valley City, Utah, in December 2009 and is presumed dead. Police identified her husband as a person of interest, but he was never charged in the still unsolved case.
At the LDS ceremony, ward member Bruce Gardner talked about God's plan of eternal salvation.
"Today our hearts grieve two young children. There are no words that can undo the tragic events of last Sunday," he said. "We believe (Susan) again will be able to raise her two young children."
The main auditorium of the Life Center Church, which holds about 1,800, was about three-quarters full for the service which was broadcast live on many TV stations and on the Internet. Blue ribbons were handed out to all of the people in attendance.
At the Tacoma service, Charlie's kindergarten teacher read the child's obituary and recalled memories. At the LDS ward-house, Charlie's first-grade teacher read the obituary and shared his memories.
Tammy Ougheon, Charlie's kindergarten teacher last year, recalled how he loved inventing, and bugs and often had to be stopped from taking a caterpillar or worm into class after recess.
"He was an amazing young man," she said. "He had an appreciation for nature I'd never seen before."
In first grade, Charlie was often referred to as "The little scientist." His 2012 New Year's resolution was to make a special project every week. His teachers said he also loved to read non-fiction books, which he called "real" books.
Charlie, 7, was a first-grader at Emma L. Carson Elementary School when he died. His first-grade teacher, John Huson, recalled how Charlie wrote a book about how to grow a plant and then came up with a marketing plan for its release, including a flier and a free seed to the first 100 people who got his book.
Huson recalled the creative way Charlie would get his stories across, such as when he informed his teacher he was going to be getting glasses by telling him a "new" student would be sitting at his seat soon and would look a lot like him, but with glasses.
The last time the teacher saw Charlie was a week ago, after school, when he was in front of the schoolhouse with his coat on backwards and his hood over his face pretending to be a Ninja.
Huson fought back tears as he talked about how Charlie will be remembered for his fun personality and creative mind and how, "he too is safe in his mother's arms."
Braden, 5, was remembered by his YMCA preschool teachers, including Kristy King. The teachers said he was known for telling exciting stories as well as his "big beautiful smile, so like his mother's."
Braden had a "contagious, joyful energy," his teachers recalled. He loved cars, trains and puzzles. He loved hunting for frogs and bugs with his brother in the Coxes' large, wooded backyard. Braden was also known as a tickle monster, who loved to tickle and be tickled. He also would hold his teachers' hands tightly and not let go. Likewise, the two boys who could never keep track of their socks, were always together, King said of Charlie and Braden.
"They were happy boys," said Michael Coons, who conducted the afternoon service. "They leave a big hole in the hearts of many."
All members of the Cox party wore buttons with Charlie and Braden's pictures with the words, "In the hands of God." They also wore blue and purple ribbons in memory of Susan Cox.
Pastor Dean Curry acknowledged the Cox and Powell families for putting aside their differences Saturday.
"This moment is about two beautiful boys," he said. "How we got here is a story well known. But what we do here is up to us. This is going to be done in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth."
Pastor Tim Atkins, who spent time with Josh Powell and the boys before their deaths, told a story of how the boys wanted to hold hands when they prayed at the Cox house. When asked why, they said it was because that's what they did at Pastor Tim's house before meals.
Sloan talked about God's plan for salvation and how the family would be together again in heaven.
"Charlie and Braden are with their mother in celestial spirit," he said. "Charlie and Braden have not perished, but lived. We must press forward. We have to learn from this experience."
A children's choir sang "Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)" during the morning service. Another children's choir sang "I Know My Savoir Loves Me" at the afternoon funeral.
In the morning, there was a slide show during the service with pictures of Charlie, Braden and Susan. Some of the pictures showed the children climbing on their grandfather, Chuck Cox, others showed Braden completing a puzzle of the movie "Cars," while another showed the boys with the Coxes releasing purple balloons from their driveway.
Dozens of members from local motorcycle clubs, including Bikers Against Child Abuse, the Gargoyles and Patriot Riders, also arrived early to the service. They said they were there both to counter any possible protest and to give support to the Powell children. Police were also parked along the street in front of the church.
There were no signs of protesters or confrontations prior to the funeral. But biker club members tried to form a barricade around the hearse and the limo to prevent the media from taking pictures of the Cox family and the hearse.
Candy "Bear Mama" Gonzales said her grandson was friends with Charlie.
"He came home from school Monday and said, 'My friend Charlie died. I cried all day at school,'" she said. "We have to stop these child abuse things. We have to take a stand."
"It's about the children. We have to make some change," added Terry Kelley, with the Patriot Riders.
Josh Powell moved his boys to Washington within a month of their mothers' disappearance and was in a custody battle for his children, who were living with the Cox family at the time of their death.
After Saturday's afternoon service, the Cox family attended a dinner at their LDS ward in Puyallup.
Between two to three dozen people held a candlelight vigil behind the gated off remains of Josh Powell's house Saturday night. The group held candles while taking turns saying prayers. Notes were posted to the boys on the chain link fence that now surrounds the house. Candles and balloons from a makeshift memorial were also in front.
Jennifer Graves showed up near the end of the vigil along with Kiirsi Hellewell, Susan Powell's good friend who has spearheaded many of the efforts in Utah to keep Susan's name alive in the media.
"I was wanting to come out here and connect with some of the public that has been so wonderful and so supportive," Graves said. "I appreciate so much the many expressions of love that are here."
As for the sight of the burned out house where her nephews and brother were killed, Graves said it was still "pretty awful."7 comments on this story
"It’s devastating because something so horrible and evil happened just right over there but then on this side you have these beautiful notes and these wonderful people who have been out here in the cold and the rain all night," added Hellewell.
Hellewell said she wanted to see where Charlie and Braden died, but also went to the vigil to participate in the healing process.
"That’s one of the reasons I came up here is to meet the people that have been so supportive and so loyal to Susan for two years and who are grieving so deeply now even though they didn’t know these boys," she said.
A private family interment for the boys will be held Monday, with the grave dedicated by Chuck Cox.