Tacoma, Wash. • Snapshots into the lives of Charlie and Braden Powell were shared with thousands who packed a Tacoma auditorium Saturday as family members, friends and others who'd never met the 7- and 5-year-old boys gathered to pay tribute at a funeral that brought tears, memories and laughter.
Nearly a week after the boys were killed by their father in a crime that shook the nation, lines snaked outside the doors of the Life Center Church and into a parking lot, where people stood in drizzling rain for a chance to pay their respects.
When the center's doors finally opened, mourners were greeted with photos of the boys, including a banner that showed them in the arms of their mother, Susan Powell, whose 2009 disappearance in Utah sparked a bizarre string of events that culminated in last week's horrific murder-suicide.
Speakers at the public, non-denominational service in Tacoma, which drew about 2,400 people, emphasized that the families of Charlie and Braden Powell were setting aside their differences for the day to honor the boys.
"How we got here is a story well known," said Dean Curry, lead pastor of Life Center Church."But what we do here and the spirit we do have here, is up to us."
Curry recounted Charlie and Braden as "two beautiful boys; works of art" who exuded energy, warmth and a keen intellect to those around them.
Saturday's memorial was a time to celebrate the boys' innocence and express gratitude for the moments shared with each child, Curry said a sentiment echoed by Tim Sloan, a family friend the boys' maternal grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox.
"This is not easy. But this is a celebration of life," Sloan said. "Charlie and Braden have not perished but live. Because of their innocence, they have returned to the eternal father."
The boys' father, Josh Powell, was not mentioned by name at the service or in a second more private funeral Saturday afternoon at the Cox family's LDS ward in Puyallup, about 12 miles southwest of Tacoma.
Police said Josh Powell, 36, who had been a person of interest since 2009 in the disappearance of his wife from their Utah home, killed himself and the two boys last Sunday, Feb. 5, by setting his rental home ablaze.
As Chuck Cox stood in front of his church congregation along with his wife Judy at the second service, he thanked public service workers who tried to keep his grandchildren safe. He said he doesn't blame police, social workers or emergency personnel for his grandson's deaths.
"Everyone did everything they could for these children. One sole person is responsible for this," Chuck Cox said. "We don't understand why they had to be taken, but they were."
Terrica Powell, Josh Powell's mother, attended both services for her grandchildren. As Chuck Cox alluded to her son's actions at the second service, she closed her eyes and bowed her head, wiping away tears.
After pallbearers accompanied the boys' casket out of the LDS church, Terrica Powell filed out with other mourners, pausing to admire a table set up with flowers, stuffed animals and photos of her grandsons.
She touched a photo of Charlie that showed the boy smiling mischievously, then commented about the boy's sweet expression to family members surrounding her.
Terrica Powell said she'd like to share memories of her grandsons, but isn't yet ready to speak about them or their father. She said she's contemplating sharing her stories in comings days.
"There is lots I would like to say. It's just that right now isn't the time," she said after the funeral.
Those who spoke at the boys' services offered loving eulogies about each child.
Charlie Powell's kindergarten teacher, Tammy Oughton, remembered the 7-year-old's wit, intelligence and love of nature. "He was an amazing young man. He had an appreciation of nature I had never seen in someone so young," she said, recalling he loved to collect bugs, rocks and plants. Charlie even helped produce a book on "How to Grow Plants," the teacher said, going so far as to design a cover with "a detailed bar code" and offering "free seeds to the first 100 people who purchased the book."
Christie King, Braden Powell's pre-kindergarten teacher, recalled the 5-year-old as having "a sharp mind and big imagination," illustrated with his creations from Tinker Toys and Legos. He was also described as a "budding puzzle master ... with contagious, joyful energy."
"He was a tease. ... He had an enthusiasm for life and took pleasure in everything," King said. "He was also a 'tickle monster.' He loved to tickle and be tickled. ... It was obvious that he loved his grandparents. He would wait at the window for his grandma to pick him up [and] he leaped into her arms."
John Huson, Charlie's first-grade teacher, choked up as he stood before the audience at the Coxes' ward to read the boy's obituary.
"His funny, bright, compassionate personality lives on with all of us who knew him," Huson said, his voice breaking with grief.
The boys' Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody dolls from the movie "Toy Story" sat beside a guestbook at their funerals. Two of the boys' favorite toy trucks were also displayed.
A brightly colored bouquet of flowers decorated a shared casket for the brothers a decision made by their grandparents, who wanted to keep the boys together in their final resting places.
Several of Charlie Powell's classmates from Carson Elementary School attended the service, squirming in their seats as their friend and his little brother were remembered.
Sarah Slack, whose daughter Jaycee was a classmate of Charlie's, said the girl had been asking questions all week about the boy, so she told her the truth. "She just kept saying ... 'It's a good thing I have a good dad, right?' and I said, 'Honey, that's never going to happen to you.' "
Some of the children and their teachers helped create a scrapbook that will be given to Chuck and Judy Cox, containing art projects, homework assignments and letters written to Charlie Powell.
Teacher Sandi Ahlers recalled meeting Charlie in the school office. She said he was holding a giant red leaf and told her about science and why leaves change colors.
He was a smart and inquisitive student, Ahlers said. "It will always be a special memory," she said. "It's really hard right now. We've had a rough week at school."
At both services, many family and friends of the Powell boys said their faith is guiding them through their grief.
Believing Charlie and Braden are now with their mother in a better place is comforting, said Bruce Gardner, a friend of the Cox family.
"We believe that she will be able again to raise her two young sons," Gardner said of Susan Powell.
Although the Coxes won't be able to spend anymore time with their grandsons, Gardner said, "they will be united again eternally."
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http://bit.ly/yoOPp1 About the case
Around noon on Feb. 5, Josh Powell, locked out a social worker who brought his children, Charlie and Braden Powell, for a supervised visit to his rented home in Graham, Wash.
Moments later, he ignited a gasoline-fueled fire at his home. Firefighters later recovered the bodies of all three. An autopsy determined that the boys had died of carbon-monoxide poisoning, but the boys also suffered chop wounds to the head and neck from a hatchet.
Powell, 36, was the only person of interest publicly named by police in the disappearance of his 28-year-old wife from their West Valley City home on Dec. 7, 2009. He had recently lost custody of the children to his wife's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox.
Powell had resolutely refused to cooperate with police investigating the case, and in text and telephone messages he sent to family and acquaintances shortly before the fire, stated that he could not go on without his boys.
The circumstances of the case were discussed at the Powell boys' funeral Saturday by some in attendance.
Washington state social workers Rosie Anderson and Marie Peterson neither knew nor worked with the Powell or Cox families but were at Life Center Church in Tacoma at the public memorial "to show support to the family and give voice to domestic violence," Anderson said.
Peterson said she sent a letter to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire expressing outrage over the fact that Josh Powell was allowed to have visitation with his sons at his home rather than another location. "Why do we allow this at home? This has to stop," she said.