TACOMA, Wash. — A community and families celebrated the innocence, energy, and smiles of two young boys on Saturday with memorial services and a candlelight vigil that brought words of hope, love and remembrance.
"This is not easy, but this is a celebration of life," Tim Sloan, a longtime friend of Chuck and Judy Cox, said at a funeral service for the Coxes' two grandsons.
Charlie and Braden Powell were killed a week ago by their father, Josh Powell, who also died after dousing his house and sons with gasoline and then setting his house on fire.
For nearly 2½ years — since the disappearance of Josh's wife, Susan Cox Powell — the Cox and Powell families have been entangled in a bitter feud with finger-pointing on both sides.
Saturday, both families temporarily set aside their differences as they remembered Charlie, Braden and Susan. A large number of relatives from the Cox family — including Kirk and Jennifer Graves, Josh Powell's sister — sat in front rows of the Life Center Church. About two dozen members of the Powell family — including Josh's other sister Alina and his mother — sat in a balcony to avoid cameras and the main congregation.
There was no mention of Josh Powell during the memorial service in Tacoma, nor at a private service held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' South Hill Ward following the initial gathering. Members of the Powell family, including Terrica Powell, also attended at the LDS church.
The bodies of both boys were placed in a single, adult- sized blue casket in accordance with the wishes of the Cox family, who did not want the boys to be apart. In a touching moment during the funeral, Chuck Cox placed his hand on the casket that held his grandsons.
A very solemn Chuck Cox, who wore a purple tie and blue ribbon (purple is the color that has come to represent the search for his daughter and to keep her in the public's mind) thanked police and the community at the end of the service for their support for the past 2½ years.
"It helps us be strong. It helps us to know there are good people in the world, good people to fight against evil," he said.
At the private service in South Hill, Cox again, in a soft voice, thanked the community as well as all the social workers.
"Everyone did everything they could for these children," he said. "One sole person is responsible for this event. I don't think it could have been stopped."
Several references were made throughout both services, including by Chuck Cox, that the children were now with their mother, who went missing in West Valley City, Utah, in December 2009 and is presumed dead. Police identified her husband as a person of interest, but he was never charged in the still unsolved case.
At the LDS ceremony, ward member Bruce Gardner talked about God's plan of eternal salvation.
"Today our hearts grieve two young children. There are no words that can undo the tragic events of last Sunday," he said. "We believe (Susan) again will be able to raise her two young children."
The main auditorium of the church, which holds about 1,800, was about three-quarters full for the service which was broadcast live on many TV station and on the Internet. Blue ribbons were handed out to all of the people in attendance.
Tammy Ougheon, Charlie's kindergarten teacher last year, recalled how he loved inventing and bugs and often had to be stopped from taking a caterpillar or worm into class after recess.
"He was an amazing young man," she said. "He had an appreciation for nature I'd never seen before."
Ougheon said Charlie was often referred to as "The little scientist." His 2012 New Year's resolution was to make a special project every week. His teachers said he also loved to read non-fiction books, which he called "real" books.
Charlie, 7, was a first-grader at Emma L. Carson Elementary School when he died. Ougheon read a letter from Charlie's first grade teacher who talked about how Charlie wrote a book about how to grow a plant and then came up with a marketing plan for its release including a flyer and a free seed to the first 100 people who got his book.
The teacher recalled the creative way Charlie would get his stories across, such as when he informed his teacher he was going to be getting glasses by telling him a "new" student would be sitting at his seat soon and would look a lot like him, but with glasses.
"He was an amazing young man," she said. "He had an appreciation for nature I'd never seen before." -- Tammy Ougheon, Charlie's teacher
The last time the teacher saw Charlie was a week ago, after school, when he was in front of the schoolhouse with his coat on backwards and his hood over his face pretending to be a Ninja.
Huson fought back tears as he talked about how Charlie will be remembered for his fun personality and creative mind and how, "he too is safe in his mother's arms."
Braden, 5, was remembered by his YMCA preschool teacher. They recalled how he was well known for telling exciting stories as well as his "big beautiful smile, so like his mother's."
Braden had a "contagious, joyful energy," his teachers recalled. His favorite color was orange and he loved cars, trains and puzzles. He loved hunting for frogs and bugs with his brother in the Coxes' large, wooded backyard. Braden was also known as a tickle monster, who loved to tickle and be tickled. He cared for others, and would hold his teachers' hands tightly and not let go. Likewise, the two boys who could never keep track of their socks, were always together, King said of Charlie and Braden.
"They were happy boys," said Michael Coons, who conducted the afternoon service. "They leave a big hole in the hearts of many."
All members of the Cox party wore buttons with Charlie and Braden's pictures with the words, "In the hands of God." They also wore blue and purple ribbons to remember both them and their mother.
Pastor Dean Curry acknowledged the Cox and Powell families for putting aside their differences Saturday.
"This moment is about two beautiful boys," he said. "How we got here is a story well known. But what we do here is up to us. This is going to be done in the spirit of Jesus of Nazereth."
Pastor Tim Atkins, who spent time with Josh Powell and the boys before their deaths, told a story of how the boys wanted to hold hands when they prayed at the Cox house. When asked why, they said it was because that's what they did at Pastor Tim's house before meals.
Sloan talked about God's plan for salvation and how the family would be together again in heaven.
"Charlie and Braden are with their mother in celestial spirit," he said. "Charlie and Braden have not perished, but lived. We must press forward. We have to learn from this experience."
Charlie and Braden have not perished, but lived. We must press forward. We have to learn from this experience.
–- Tim Sloan, family friend
A children's choir sang "Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)" during the morning service. Another children's choir sang "I Know My Savior Loves Me" at the afternoon funeral.
In the morning, there was a slide show during the service with pictures of Charlie, Braden and Susan. Some of the pictures showed the children climbing on their grandfather, Chuck Cox, others showed Braden completing a puzzle of the movie "Cars," while another showed the boys with the Coxes releasing purple balloons from their driveway.
Dozens of members from local motorcycle clubs, including Bikers Against Child Abuse, the Gargoyles and Patriot Riders, also arrived early to the service. They say they are there both to counter any possible protest and to give support to the Powell children. Police were also parked along the street in front of the church.
There were no signs of protesters or confrontations prior to the funeral. But biker club members tried to form a barricade around the hearse and the limo to prevent the media from taking pictures of the Cox family and the hearse.
Candy "Bear Mama" Gonzales said her grandson was friends with Charlie.
"He came home from school Monday and said, 'My friend Charlie died. I cried all day at school,'" she said. "We have to stop these child abuse things. We have to take a stand."
"It's about the children. We have to make some change," added Terry Kelley, with the Patriot Riders.
Josh Powell moved his boys to Washington within a month of their mothers' disappearance and was in a custody battle for his children, who were living with the Cox family at the time of their death.
A private family interment for the boys will be held Monday. The grave will be dedicated by Chuck Cox.