KANAB — Four years ago, 10-year-old Joshua Hutchings died while playing in Kanab Creek when the riverbank collapsed.
Not long after that, his father, Jerry Hutchings, recalls lying on his shop floor in deep despair. At that moment, Hutchings said, he felt Josh reach out to him and say, "You're somebody special."
"It was like Josh helped pick me up, telling me I had a destiny, even though I remember thinking, 'I'm just a cabinet guy,' " he said.
Hutchings, 44, believed his destiny involved writing a book inspired by that difficult time in his life and how the community of Kanab helped him get through it.
Hutchings describes his extremely abusive childhood growing up in Provo and later Kanab. He eventually married his high school sweetheart, who would later die of cancer. He still marvels at the way the Kanab community came together during his wife's illness and death.
But he was saddened when those close community bonds soon seemed to disappear and people "became disconnected with each other."
"People went back to yakking about each other. It's heart-wrenching how, after a tragedy, people fall back into the same old things. That's the real tragedy," he said.
Ten years later, he said, those bonds returned when the same community came together again for him. This time, it was because of Josh.
During the 2005 floods in southern Utah, children wanted to play in Kanab Creek because the water was higher. Josh, his sister Lauren, 11, and their friend Sage Chamberlain, also 11, were no different.
Within minutes of their arrival that March day to swim and play, all three became caught in the heavy mud when the creek banks collapsed. Lauren and Sage were able to dislodge themselves. Josh wasn't so lucky.
"I prayed that nothing was going to happen to anyone. I had warm feelings that there wouldn't be one person injured," remembers Hutchings.
"I knew that there were angels present to protect the people searching for Josh … and when I looked up the cliff, I'd see big men like I can't even describe, strong spirits, holding the creek bank back," he said.
"It was at that moment, I knew that the people would be protected."
Hutchings looked around and remembers seeing hundreds of people there. Some in sandals, some barefoot, some dressed up in tuxedos and baseball uniforms — there was both a dance and baseball game going on at the time. He saw people he'd coached, neighbors, teens, friends, teachers, families and strangers.
"At that moment," he said, "I saw the connection that drives us and makes us who we are."
"I remember the day Josh died," Hutchings said. "I dropped to my knees in front of a dirt pile. I knew Josh was there. I remember praying to God, 'How could this happen? You can't take my son.' But a voice said, 'It's OK; the pain will make you stronger.' "
Josh was found that Sunday morning, curled in a fetal position, in the same spot where 10 LDS bishops had prayed together the night before, he said. Ironically, it was almost the same spot where Hutchings had slept the night before.
Fueled by inspiration from Josh and the community connections he had felt, Hutchings decided to write a book.
He considers the book, titled "The City Within," his gift back to the community. He even gave away hundreds of copies when it was first printed.
The book is the story of a fictional boy who helps his community, to remind the Kanab community of something better.
"I'm not an acclaimed author by any means. I can't even spell," he said.
Hutchings, however, believes his son wanted him to write the book.
"He was there when I was writing. And when I got busy, he goaded me to get it done and gave me confidence," he said.
"I was just a vessel in creating this story."
Hutchings said he hopes Kanab and other communities realize the importance of helping each other.
"We're all somewhere together because we're connected as a community," he said. "The only thing that kept me good from losing my son was the community connection."
E-mail: [email protected]