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LOGAN — Her eyes filled with tears, the mother of 5-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley described her late daughter as a nature-loving "wild child," happiest when she could kick off her shoes and pick flowers or collect rocks to give away.
"You loved so many things. Beautiful things," Jessica Whipple told several hundred people gathered Saturday night at the Historic Cache County Courthouse for a candlelight vigil in honor of her daughter.
"My friend called me today to tell me she still has a rock Lizzy gave her, in her pocket. And that makes me so proud to be your mom, always and forever," Whipple said from the steps of the brick building in a long, rainbow-colored dress.
She described the week since her daughter was first reported missing as "a complete nightmare. The absolute unthinkable has happened. We lost our beautiful, sweet Lizzy. … It felt like I was drowning."
Lizzy Shelley's body was found Wednesday, a half-block from her Logan home, after prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty against her uncle, Alexander William Whipple, 21, who faces other charges in connection with her death.
Norman Black, the father of Whipple's fiance, Detrich Black, thanked the somber crowd for their support.
"It does my heart good to be with you, a loving and a caring community. As much as it hurts having experienced this past week, there has been a silver lining," Black said. "If suffering must be endured, then I am happy to do it here in Cache Valley."
He and other speakers during the brief ceremony reminded those in attendance to take time to appreciate nature. Black's voice choked as he said she would want them to "marvel at the vision that is a rainbow."
Detrich Black held Whipple throughout the event but did not speak. Candles were lit in Lizzy Shelley's memory after her mother said the young girl had "illuminated my heart."
As the glowing candles were held aloft, the only sounds that could be heard were cars passing by along Main Street and a fussing baby. Some held balloons and there were a few toys, similar to those left on the porch of the family's home nearby.
Tyson Swenson kept a close eye on his youngest daughter, 2-year-old Ivey, as he spoke about the impact of Lizzy Shelley's death.
"It hits hard, just because I have two daughters. I've been in this community my entire life and nothing like this happens. That's why I wanted to be here to support them," Swenson said, as Ivey spun around in a pink tutu.
His daughters now have to stay close to home, he said. While Ivey isn't aware of what's happened, Swenson said his 7-year-old understands there's been a loss in their neighborhood.
"I don't know how to explain it. Because stuff like this shouldn't happen. But it does," Swenson said. "That's sad. That's the world we live in. But I'm going to stay in this community."
Heather Clark, of Hyde Park, held her daughter, 2-year-old Olivia, tightly in her arms as she handed out candles she's purchased after seeing a notice about the event on Facebook.
Clark said she didn't know Lizzy Shelley's family, but wanted to be there.
"I just wanted to do something I felt mattered," she said, tearing up and tightening her grip on Olivia. "It hurts. I think it's hard for everybody, for sure. …It's hard to believe it could happen."
Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen spoke at the ceremony, attending by a number of uniformed officers.
He said it "feels like a piece of our innocence is gone." But Jensen said he believes the community can recapture some of what it lost by remembering Lizzy Shelley and the delight she took in the world around her.
"Think about Lizzy," he said. "This is a wonderful community that we live in. This is a terrible situation that occurred. But we have a role model now. Her name is Lizzy."