Slowly they came, braking gently and rolling by in silent homage to the memories of five little girls lost Friday to playfulness, curiosity and the deadly heat of a car trunk that became their tomb.
One by one cars drove past - and there was nothing to see, only a single red-tinged Mylar balloon surrounded by the eerie stillness of a neighborhood forever changed by the tragedy.Saturday evening, 24 hours after police found the apparently heat-exhausted bodies of five girls in the trunk of a car at 3635 S. 5200 West, police were giving few details about the tragedy.
"The family is in a state of shock," said West Valley Police Lt. Charles Illsley.
Police are honoring the family's request to withhold the children's names. There were two pairs of sisters who were cousins and their unrelated friend. Two of them were 6, the others 5, 3 and 2.
"This goes beyond a death in the family," Illsley said. "One of the families was left childless, another one lost two of their three kids - we're going to give them a little bit of time to deal with this before they start seeing their names in the media."
All police have said is that someone saw the girls playing in the front yard late Friday afternoon, and 51 minutes later, after a neighborhood and police search, the bodies were discovered in the trunk.
Efforts to revive two of the girls were unsuccessful. Their bodies were covered and protected from the public view by large sheets.
The children were under the care of Dixie Smith. Smith and her husband, Paul, are the parents of two of the girls. The Smiths have no other children.
"It's a very difficult thing to see. They were beautiful little girls," said Mark Austin, who is the stake president over the LDS ward the Smiths attend.
"They love their children, as all parents do. The only kids they had have died. They're feeling the void right now," said Austin, who works with Paul Smith at Wasatch Electric as electricians. More information and the children's names will be released Sunday, Illsley said.
But the girls' names weren't important to the steady stream of drivers that passed the house Saturday.
There on the lawn of the green house on 5200 West was a Mylar balloon bolstered with a message about God's spirit and anchored under the property's poplar trees by bunches of flowers.
"We're all kind of teary-eyed and upset," said Bruce Snider, who lives two houses away. "I just walked away from people I normally talk to. I just don't want to talk about it anymore."
"Cars have been coming down the street and slowing down near the (Smiths') house," added Snider's wife, Bonnie.
"Why?" a reporter asked Meggan Martinez. "Why have you driven by this house again and again with your sad eyes and your four children. Why?"
"Because," Martinez said, "it could be me crying out my eyes in there now. It could be me without my babies."
The mood was the same at a 7-Eleven, Harmon's and a video store close to the Smith's home.
People in West Valley and in other places along the Wasatch Front gave their children extra hugs Saturday after the tragedy that was devastating enough to warrant the simultaneous dispatch of all three West Valley police chaplains for the first time in the department's history.
Mothers hoping and praying their children would know the danger of a car trunk gave quiet thanks.
Like Martinez, they counted the times their children were unattended with a trunk left open after a grocery trip.
Another mom said surely she might notice if her 2- and 4-year-old sons were quiet for 15 or 20 minutes.
"But what about five minutes or 10. I might not think about it. And that would be too long," said Cheryl Tingle, who lives about a mile from the Smiths.
A 911 tape of dispatched conversations between police officers released Saturday, illustrated the anguish of those who were there when the bodies were discovered.
Police officers were dispatched at 3:37 p.m. and the children were found at 4:06 p.m. Shortly after the first dispatch, a frantic officer screams: "The children have been found in the trunk of a vehicle."
The transmission fades out and after static and confusion another officer tells dispatchers, "Get Life Flight. I've got five down. Call paramedics. It looks like heat exhaustion." A couple of hours after police found the children, the relatives were allowed to see the bodies.
"The medical examiner cleaned the children a little bit, but for parents who are expecting to see something like a sleeping child, seeing a deceased child has to be one of the worst things that I could ever imagine," Police Chaplain Donald Maruji said.
The families were trying to deal with the losses in different ways, Maruji said.
"One of the families was extremely supportive of the baby sitter and another one was not," Maruji said. "Those kinds of reactions are only natural in the face of these horrible circumstances."
The story has caught international attention. West Valley officers have received media inquiries from as far away as Europe.
"We're getting phone calls from everywhere on this thing," Illsley said. "I've gotten calls from London and New York."
Fund for funerals
A fund for the children's funeral expenses has been established. Contributions can be made to the West Valley Little Girls Fund at Bank One branches.