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Jennifer Steele Christensen
Kevin and Zachary Christensen, brothers who are the same ages as Charlie and Braden Powell, attend a community vigil in Logan in memory of the slain Washington boys.

LOGAN — Hyrum resident Stacee Jensen doesn’t know Susan Powell’s family, but their story has become very personal. Participating in a Logan vigil to remember 7-year-old Charlie Powell and his 5-year-old brother, Braden, Jensen wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke of a loss that has broken hearts nationwide.

“My own kids mean so much to me,” she said. “I just can’t imagine how something like this could happen, and I came today to show my support for the Cox family. I can’t drive to Washington, but if the funeral had been in Utah, I definitely would have gone. This is just the little bit that I can give.”

As dozens of Cache Valley residents gathered in front of the Cache County Courthouse Friday to release helium-filled balloons, Jensen’s sentiment was echoed by law enforcement, civic leaders, employees of Child Protective Services and families like hers who came simply because they cared.

Sponsored by the Child & Family Support Center of Cache County, Inc., the event signified not only support for the Powell children, but also a community pledge to keep children safe from harm.

“While we may not have personal relationships with the Powell or Cox families, we can all feel the pain of losing someone, and losing an innocent child is our worst nightmare," said James Swink, Cache County attorney. "Whatever support we can show to these families, I think it’s important to come out and show it.”

“My grandchildren are the exact same ages as those two little boys,” said Valerie Elder of Hyde Park, “I think it’s important to make people aware of what happened so we can band together and make changes.”

Noting that the Division of Child & Family Services substantiated 11,543 cases of child abuse in Utah during the past fiscal year, Esterlee A. Molyneux, executive director of the CFSC, spoke before a somber, even reverent, audience about how the deaths of two little boys with strong Utah ties provides a stark reminder that society cannot turn a blind eye toward child abuse.

“It is our collective responsibility — no matter who we are or what we do, to make every effort possible to safeguard Cache Valley’s children from harm,” she said.

“We have an incredible team of professionals in our community that serves as a support to families,” Molyneux said. “However, the greatest protective factor in the lives of our children lies within the walls of our own homes.”

Molyneux’s sentiments were echoed by the solemn words of G. Lynn Nelson, Cache County Sheriff: “This situation with Charlie and Braden once again brings the tragedy of child abuse to the forefront of our minds. I know many people are asking how or why this could happen. We want to find someone to blame. It’s got to be someone’s fault. In stark reality, though, there are no clear answers to the questions of how or why.”

Detailing his experience in seeing both the best and worst of humanity throughout his career in law enforcement, Nelson spoke of a collective need for understanding and action as mourners move forward in the wake of tragedy.

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Inviting vigil participants to send their balloons toward Heaven, Nelson, who also serves as president of the CFSC Board of Directors, encouraged Cache Valley residents not only to remember Charlie and Braden Powell, but also to take local action in support of the CFSC’s mission, Strengthening Families & Protecting Children.

Elder, who likewise serves on the board of the Child & Family Support Center, also recognizes the importance of community involvement in child abuse prevention efforts, and said she is deeply saddened that Josh Powell reached “such a point of desperation in his life” that he could take the lives of his children. “I took it very hard,” she said. “And I hope being here will be healing for people. I know it is for me.”

Email: jchristensen@desnews.com