I just want everybody to know that what happened here today, it was a blessing. Kinda calmed my heart, to give me some peace. —Belden Thomas
WEST JORDAN — The mother of Sierra Newbold watched the dedication of a new bench in honor of her slain daughter and said she knew Sierra was right there watching along with her.
"I saw her sitting next to the bench on the side, legs crossed, just smiling," Kathy Newbold said Friday with tears in her eyes. "I know she was here. She was beaming because it was for her and for Daniel."
Likewise, the mother of Daniel Allen said she, too, believed both deceased children were at West Jordan Elementary School, watching a service with students paying tribute to their classmates and offering a community a chance to heal. Daniel succumbed to brain cancer last year.
On Friday, a handcrafted bench, made of cement and decorative rocks, was unveiled next to a new tree that was planted, both in honor of 6-year-old Sierra, who was abducted from her bedroom in June, sexually assaulted and killed, and Daniel Allen, who died in 2011 at the age of 7. Both were students at West Jordan Elementary.
On the top of the bench engraved in the cement are the words, "A person is a person no matter how small," a phrase taken from the Dr. Seuss book "Horton Hears a Who." Sierra's name was engraved on the side of the bench facing the tree.
Brad and Kathy Newbold, Sierra's parents, were present for the dedication ceremony. They spoke briefly about Sierra following the ceremony, marking their first public comments since the death of their daughter.
Both were touched by the outpouring of love and support the community has shown them over the past 3½ months.
"It's been unbelievable. The whole community has been amazing. The ribbons, some have come down. But I think ours will be up for a while. And when they start getting ratty looking, we'll replace them," Brad Newbold said, referring to the pink and purple ribbons that were tied around every tree, mailbox, street sign and light pole lining the streets surrounding Sierra's house after she disappeared and after her body was discovered.
On June 26, prosecutors say Terry Lee Black entered the Newbold home at 2383 W. 7095 South, at 3:05 a.m. through a sliding glass door. A home security camera recorded someone leaving the house, "apparently carrying something," at 3:13 a.m., according to charges filed in 3rd District Court. Sierra's body was found in a nearby canal.
Black was arrested three days later and charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping and rape, all first-degree felonies, as well as second-degree felony charges of robbery and receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle that led to his arrest. His next court hearing is scheduled for next week.
But Friday belonged to Sierra and Daniel and the classmates who played and studied alongside them.
"She would love it," Brad Newbold said when asked what Sierra would think of the tribute. "The saying on it is perfect. … She loved reading. It was just a saying that just fits her. … It just fits. 'People are people, no matter how small,' and she was a person."
Kathy Newbold agreed, saying that her daughter was always reading, and her favorite book was "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss.
Greg Butcher, with Hogan and Associates Construction, built the bench. It was Butcher who came up with the Dr. Seuss wording.
"I spent a couple of nights looking online for quotes," Butcher said.
When he came across the line, "A person is a person no matter how small," he knew he had found the right one.
Two of Butcher's children go to West Jordan Elementary, including one in kindergarten. He said Sierra's death hit "way too close to home."
Many of the school's students sat on the grass in front of the tree during the ceremony. The names of Daniel and Sierra were written in ribbons tied to the chain-link fence, with a heart between them. Afterward, the children placed notes for Sierra they had written for her on the new bench and tied ribbons to the new tree.
In addition to the unveiling of the bench, a smaller, circular cement marker was unveiled in the ground next to it with a small plaque in the middle to honor Daniel Allen. The plaque had Daniel's name and the words, "In loving memory, Love Each Other."
Lani Allen, Daniel's mother who was at the ceremony, said for two years her son battled brain cancer. On what was expected to be the day that they were to go to the hospital for one last MRI exam to get an "all clear," doctors found that the cancer had returned and gave Daniel six weeks to live.
During his fight with cancer, Daniel would often ask his mother, "We love each other, don't we?" That was later shortened to just, "Love each other," Lani Allen said.
Daniel died just over a year ago, right before the start of the school year. After he died, Lani said she and her husband went to the school to tell the students themselves.
"I wanted to find a way I could tell the children Daniel had passed away, in a very loving manner," she said.
During Friday's ceremony, Lani Allen presented the school with a gift of her own, the book "Lifetimes." It was a book she read to Daniel's class after he died. It explains death on a level for children, she said.
"Each of us have a time and a season," Lani Allen said. "Every single living thing has a time when it dies."
The book will now be placed in the school's library.
Lani Allen said she was very moved by the gesture to include a plaque for her son and a place that the classmates of both Daniel and Sierra could go to remember their friends.
She also extended her condolences to the Newbold family.
"I don't think it's ever easy losing a child. But I think not having the opportunity to say goodbye would be difficult," she said. "I really feel for them. I hope that the healing process goes well, and that they're able to see there's beauty in humanity, that there's some beautiful people who do care."
Daniel's plaque was placed next to one dedicated several years ago for 10-year-old Linzie Williamson. In 2008, in a triple-murder/suicide that shocked the valley, Linzie, her mother, and her 1-year-old half-sister were shot to death by her mother's boyfriend, who then committed suicide.
Kathy Newbold still has children who attend West Jordan Elementary. She said she will see the bench and the tree every day as she walks her children to school.
Belden Thomas, a cousin of Newbold, said Sierra's death has been difficult on him as well, and he was thankful with Friday's events.
"I just want everybody to know that what happened here today, it was a blessing. Kinda calmed my heart, to give me some peace," he said.