Charles Cox does not know who brings small gifts to his grandsons’ grave. Whenever he comes to Puyallup’s Woodbine Cemetery to clip the grass over their shared coffin, there is something new.
This week, there was a helicopter near a dinosaur. There were vases of artificial flowers, and a ceramic angel. There are polished rocks.
Charlie and Braden Powell liked rocks, and frogs, and ponds.
The grave also has a pile of small change, though Cox does not know what it means.
He does know that the grave, at the bottom of a hill at the cemetery entrance, has become a place where people come to find peace with the boys.
He is certain to his soul that they are in heaven, and free of a life of strife.
Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, were his daughter’s sons. When Susan Cox Powell disappeared from her home in Utah on Dec. 6, 2009, their father, Josh Powell, moved them to Puyallup to be closer to his family.
The boys spent the next two years caught up in the investigation into their mom’s disappearance – and probable murder – and their father’s role in it. Tangled in it were voyeurism and child pornography on their father’s side of the family.
The boys spent time in foster care before they moved in with Charles and Judy Cox. But on Feb. 5 this year, Josh Powell got them away from a social worker who was bringing them for a supervised visit to a house he rented in the Graham area. He struck them with a hatchet and blew up the house, killing them and himself.
A week later, the story got worse.
Josh Powell’s family wanted to bury him near the boys at the City of Puyallup’s Woodbine Cemetery, and there was no policy to prevent it. His family had chosen a plot but had not yet paid for it.
First, the community denied them.
Then thousands of people acted to make the boys’ grave a place of healing.
“We needed to do it quick,” said Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman deputy Ed Troyer.
He and Sheriff Paul Pastor went to Woodbine Cemetery and bought the two $1,750 plots next to the boys’ grave with money reimbursed by Crime Stoppers of Tacoma-Pierce County.
“We were there at 10, and had all the paperwork signed by 2:30,” Troyer said.
The public wanted to contribute. Some 50,000 people sent letters of support and donations to help pay for the grave sites.
“We got a card with two quarters taped to it from a senior on a fixed income,” Troyer said.
Donations from all over the country, Europe, and one from China, totaled $50,000, enough for a memorial. Woodbine agreed to reserve the hillside where the boys are buried for children. Crime Stoppers and the Cox family agreed to buy an angel to watch over it.
They chose a familiar one, with a message of hope on its wing.
Writer Richard Paul Evans set his novella, “The Christmas Box Angel,” in Salt Lake City. The story tells how the death of a child on Dec. 6 taught generations of strangers the worth of love.
After the book’s success, Evans commissioned a statue of the angel in Salt Lake City. When people asked to buy full-sized copies of it, he set up a business to do that for $14,000. There are now 100 in the United States and Canada.
“On Dec. 6, everybody meets at the base of the angel in a vigil for children who are lost,” said Charles Cox.”
They have ordered that angel, and the granite base on which it will stand at the top of the children’s hill. She will face west and greet everyone who comes to the cemetery.
They plan to install solar lighting, Troyer said, so the angel will be a presence at night. All together, it should cost $35,000 to $40,000.
“There will be memorials also for other kids,” Troyer said. “Crime Stoppers will use the remaining money to buy graves for children who are killed by fire, drowning, accident, foster care kids without the means to be buried, crime victims.”
That these children will surely come is tragic. But the people of Pierce County, and the world, have made for them a place to rest, a peaceful email@example.com