Twin Polygamous Towns Host Memorial for 13 Who Died in Flood

27 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Divided polygamous towns unite at memorial for Utah flood victims.

HILDALE, Utah — A survivor so young he stepped on a stool to reach a podium microphone, remembered his heart “whacking like a sledgehammer” in the moments before a flash flood swept he and his family away nearly two weeks ago. Joseph Jessop Jr. spoke Saturday during a rare public memorial service hosted by two often-secretive polygamous towns on the Utah-Arizona border that typically shun outsiders and loathe government interference.

That number includes one boy who remains missing.The neighbouring towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, hosted the afternoon memorial service at the top of a canyon road in Maxwell Park, attracting a few hundred people, including Utah Gov. Funerals have previously been handled discreetly, with no invitations extended to outsiders, including family of the deceased, if they aren’t members of this sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Sudden canyon runoff from two back-to-back storm systems swept away the 16 members of Jessop’s and Black’s families who had stopped on the road just below Hildale’s Maxwell Park to wait for rushing flood waters crossing the road to subside, unaware that the torrent was about to overflow its streambed and rush down on them from several feet up the road. But Saturday’s memorial was open to anyone and held in the same lush park surrounded by rich red rock canyon walls where sisters Josephine Jessop, Naomi Jessop and Della Black are thought to have been on Sept. 14 with their 13 children before driving down the canyon during a flash-flood alert. Similar flooding from the storm system was blamed for seven deaths in Zion National Park and another one in the uninhabited wilderness between Hildale and Hurricane.

Gary Herbert, representatives from the state’s attorney general office and officials from both Washington and Mohave counties. “Today, the people of Utah mourn with you,” Herbert said, citing passages from the Book of Mormon, adding that circumstances like these can draw people out, allowing them to help when they may have otherwise hesitated to do so. Watson said before the service that it could be a turning point, “one of those opportunities for everybody to realize that everyone matters,” he said. Polygamist Tom Green, who was convicted of bigamy, also attended with some of his family, though a belief in polygamy appears to be his only connection to the Hildale residents killed.

Officials said he appeared to have died of exposure with no physical violence involved. “I am very grateful for all who have come and given of their time, their prayers, their many efforts to do what they can to help bring comfort to those who are mourning,” Allred said. “I’ve been struggling through this whole experience trying to figure out how to say thank you in a way that really gets to you,” Barlow said. “I guess our language doesn’t have the right words for it.” Signs at a few locations around town expressed gratitude for the outside assistance, such as one along state Route 59 that declared, “A big thank you to all search n’ rescue and volunteers. The crowd probably could have filled the 800-plus folding chairs lined up on the park’s huge lawn, though about half the attendees stood on the perimeter. A children’s choir from the Kingston group, identified as the Davis County Cooperative Society, sang, “I Know My Heavenly Father Knows,” and Kingston’s son, also named Daniel, said the group provided a crew of about 160 people who helped cleanup efforts around town. She knew exactly what I needed,” his “little angel,” LaRue Black who would throw her arms around his neck and squeeze him, and his “sweet precious angel,” Melanie Black.

Saturday, he recalled his six-year-old son Tyson Lucas Black, with his “beautiful, heavenly smile,” wanting to join him to do electrical work, climbing the ladder, using the drill, not wanting to goof off. For years, FLDS church leaders have exiled members deemed “apostates” in an act that requires them to leave not only the church, but also their families and homes.

While church members are taught to shun apostates, the relatives on the outside generally work to reopen communications or even gain reinstatement within the church. Johnson said there was a time when he was an FLDS member when he would have practiced the same shunning behavior that he now is the recipient of, and he is just grateful for the limited involvement he has been allowed by his FLDS relatives.

He recalled seeing the flood as it overtook the family vehicle. “My heart was pounding a thousand beats per minute — just whacking like a sledgehammer,” the boy said. “But I know that Heavenly Father wanted this to happen and I’m grateful for this experience.” Of the children caught in the flood, authorities have released only the name and age of Tyson Black. Sheldon Black Sr. noted that his son and grandsons were escorted away from the memorial immediately upon its conclusion, and that they avoided eye contact with him as he sat on the third row. “One thing I can say is, I just wish I could get closer to my son and my family,” he said. “I pray for the day that love can be expressed between us again. Hundreds of volunteers from various government agencies and independent groups descended on the town to search a stretch of several miles for any sign of the women and children. A religious rift in the town has divided families, with those who remain in the sect at odds with former FLDS members who were cast out of the church or left on their own.

Ex-members of the sect or those who don’t follow Jeffs’ church have remained skeptical that the tragedy may unify the town, but the memorial gave them reason for cautious optimism. “It’s good to see you all,” the young Jessop Jr. said to the hundreds gathered, at the outset and end of his brief remarks, perhaps not realizing his simple and genuine greeting illustrated something larger. Jessop said he has counseled his congregation that the flood is an example of how “everything is in Heavenly Father’s hands.” During the service, Utah Gov.

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