I was in Gilbert, Ariz., the week after the Gilbert Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was dedicated. It was fast and testimony meeting, and I noticed one young boy who had been sitting only two rows in front of us make his way to the stand. He confidently strode to the microphone, and it was then that I noticed he had Down syndrome.
There was a lovely spirit and countenance to C.J. Udall, this 11-year-old. His brother also bore his testimony about the joy of participating in the temple dedication cultural celebration. After the meeting, his mother graciously introduced herself and we chatted briefly.
Not quite one week later, on Saturday morning, I was packing to catch my flight home when I heard my daughter-in-law, Chelsea, gasp. In checking her texts, she read that the young 11-year-old boy who had shared his testimony was missing. The family owns five acres, and C.J.'s family had hosted an overnight campout on their property. With many young boys playing and having fun, C.J. had managed to slip away.
Within five minutes, his parents noticed he was gone. Their concern was palpable because, although they had conscientiously erected several fences to keep C.J. safe, there is a canal in close proximity to their home. Within 10 minutes of C.J.’s disappearance, his family had located his entry point into the canal. They sensed he had drowned before they contacted the police and the Amber Alert went out.
When Chelsea got the email, it was two hours since C.J. had gone missing. Police, search and rescue, ward members and neighbors were frantically searching for C.J., hoping their worst fears would not be confirmed.
Just the day before, Chelsea and I were talking about the exquisite privilege of being members of the church and living in ward families where we are connected and where so much outreach and so much good transpires. This will surprise no one, but when my son Tom and Chelsea moved to Arizona, to a new town and a new home, there were ward members waiting in their driveway as they pulled up to help unload the moving truck. Members brought food, introduced themselves, and extended friendship and fellowship. It was reciprocated, and within days they had callings, and the Gilbert Gateway Ward was truly their ward home.
Now, I was observing the critical part, the “do” part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Emails, texts and calls were flying between ward members. Many were involved in search efforts to find C.J. Others solicited food and money to provide aid for the searchers. Prayers were being offered and friends gathered to support, comfort and be with C.J.’s family.
A member of the stake presidency shared a lovely vignette. When he heard C.J. was missing, he immediately got in his car to go and help. On the way, he saw police officers out of their car by the canal. He pulled over and approached. The questioning look on their faces led him to explain, “I’m a leader in C.J.’s church. If you need searchers, I can have a hundred here in a few minutes. If you need more, I can have a thousand here in an hour.”
As we left for the airport, we drove to drop off supplies. Chelsea got out of the car, and a close friend of C.J.'s mom got out of her car. They talked, hugged and cried together. Chelsea, who is the Young Women president, came back to the car. “If it’s OK, I think I better stay here," she said. "The girls and boys are at some members' houses and I think I need to be with them.”
Of course she had to stay. Of course it was hard for the youths because C.J. was a beloved member of the ward family. All were traumatized and reeling from the events of the day.
Chelsea sent me a text shortly after when she learned that C.J.'s beloved dog and close companion had been found treading water in the canal, unable to climb its steep walls. Shortly before boarding my plane, word came confirming that C.J.'s body had been recovered from the canal.
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