WEST VALLEY CITY — Tears still fell one year after the shocking deaths of Braden and Charlie Powell, but family members who loved them and the community who rallied behind the search for their still-missing mother also were able to smile as they promised to remember the mother and sons — believing they will see them again someday.
A vigil was held Tuesday for Susan Cox Powell and her sons, 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charlie. The boys were killed on Feb. 5, 2012, when their father, Josh Powell, set fire to his rental house in Graham, Wash., also killing himself.
Josh Powell remains the chief suspect in the disappearance of Susan, who was last seen in December 2009 and is presumed dead.
"I didn't want to mark the day," said Josh Powell's sister, Jennifer Graves, as she looked around at the small but familiar group huddled under the bowery at West View Park. "But this has been healing for me."
At times it feels like just yesterday that she learned Charlie and Braden had been murdered, and one year later the loss still weighs on her, Graves said, speaking to the group at Tuesday's vigil.
"I have my moments," she admitted. "I have my crying spells, and then I'm OK again for a little while. But it's a little bit tough."
Graves' husband, Kirk, added that while the family has felt anger through the ordeal, most of that anger is now gone, replaced by faith that Susan and her sons have been reunited.
Kiirsi Hellewell said she will always admire the woman she called her best friend.
"She was the kind of person that you don't get to meet very often in your life," she said.
Hellewell shared a poem someone sent to her for the vigil, reminiscent of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' children's song, "I Am a Child of God."
"I am a child of God, and he has called me home," she read. "My earthly journey's through, but still I do not walk alone."
Musical artist Alex Boye sang for the group, and a table piled high with purple ribbons and stationary was provided, encouraging those who came to remember the family to write letters of love and support to Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox.
The Associated Press reported several dozen relatives and community members also gathered Tuesday evening in Graham, Wash., for a candlelight vigil to mark the one-year anniversary of the killings of two young boys.
Following a prayer and a period of silence at the spot where the house once stood, Chuck Cox thanked those in attendance. He endorsed neighbors' plans to raise money to turn the vacant lot into a park or other gathering place “to bring happiness to the neighborhood.”
In West Valley City, a slideshow of photos was shown, with the now famous faces of Braden, Charlie and Susan, as well as images from vigils and memorials held since the search for Susan began.
It was set to "Susan's Song: A Dream Away," which was released in October 2012 just prior to Susan's birthday. The song was written by Camilyn Morrison, who said the words came to her in a dream as she sought in prayer to find comfort following boys' tragic deaths.
Several at the vigil said they took comfort in the song's message, which promises "they were both safe inside God's arms before they felt any harm."
Boye was among those who stood to share their thoughts at the end of the program, saying that while he never met Susan or her sons, he is struck by the reverence and respect shown by anyone speaking about her.
"She had a smile that says, 'Everything is going to be fine,'" he said.
Boye also expressed his admiration for family members, who in months of news interviews and public appearances were always respectful, he said, an example of grace in spite of tragedy.
Danielle Johnson, who attended a vigil in West Valley City a year ago in conjunction with the boys' funerals, said she has tried to stay in touch with the family, tying purple ribbons and offering support however she can. Johnson said she is a better person in light of all she has learned about Susan from those who knew her.
"I remember breaking down crying for people I had never met," Johnson told the group, wiping warm tears from her cold cheeks. "It's amazing how three people I have never met have influenced my life so much."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company