Jessica Whipple, mother of the late 5-year-old Lizzy Shelley, admitted she was a little nervous to speak on the steps of the Historic Courthouse in Logan to throngs on people on Saturday night — but slowly, and tearfully, the words came.
“This past week has been a complete nightmare. The absolute unthinkable has happened. We’ve lost our beautiful, sweet Lizzy,” she said, clutching a microphone and a notebook with family and supporters behind her. “When this world-shattering news of her disappearance happened, it felt like I was drowning.”
Her remarks came one week to the day after Lizzy went missing and was later allegedly murdered by Whipple’s brother, Alex. The search for Lizzy spanned days, involved hundreds of officials and several agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Lizzy’s body was later found within a quarter mile of her house, capping days of the Cache Valley community speculating on what might have happened to the 5-year-old.
“A clock started ticking wildly inside of my head, and I knew we were racing against time to try and find her,” Whipple said through tears and a strained voice. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but that isn’t going to stop us from taking good care of our sweet, sweet Lizzy.”
The search for the girl gained statewide attention, which was also reflected on Saturday night on the courthouse grounds, as reporters and photographers from numerous news outlets came to cover the vigil.
The event was organized in part with the help of Cache County Victim Services after Lizzy’s family requested it, said Terryl Warner, the director of that office, in an interview with The Herald Journal.
In remarks to vigil attendees, Warner thanked everyone for turning out to the event.
“As we light our candles tonight and we see the flickers of the bright flames, let us think of ways to live like Lizzy,” she said. “Tonight I challenge each of you to live as Lizzy did: to stop and smell the flowers, to be kind to others, to find joy and happiness in the little things.”
Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen, who was visibly emotional during the press conference earlier in the week announcing the charges against Alex Whipple, was calm on Saturday night in offering words of wisdom.
“This loss is a loss of our innocence here in Logan — and we don’t have difficulty like this very often,” he said. “It just feels like a piece of our innocence is gone.”
Jensen said he thinks about Lizzy’s innocence whenever he sees her smiling in a picture.
“If we concentrate and if we can think about Lizzy in that regard — the innocence of her — then perhaps we can gain that back,” he said. “We have a role model now, and her name is Lizzy.”
After speeches were made, Jessica and her fiancé, Deke Black, knelt down and lit two candles for the vigil. Everyone else attending, from children the same age as Lizzy to the elderly, had theirs lit and stood in a moment of silence.
Jensen told The Herald Journal after his remarks that although not everyone attending the vigil on Saturday had a personal connection to Lizzy, there was certainly a community connection to her now with so many people attending the event on Main Street.
Indeed, several members of the community The Herald Journal spoke with at the vigil did not know the late 5-year-old but turned out for her.
Taylor Swenson, of Nibley, said the loss Jessica must be feeling as Lizzy’s mother felt relatable, given that he has a child of his own in a stroller.
“I mean, she’s just like any other girl,” Swenson said, referring to Lizzy. “Just cute and young and innocent — what you’d expect for a 5-year-old girl.”
Swenson’s wife, Carlie, said as a mother, the thought of a missing child is “my worst fear.”
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” Carlie said.
Damon Simmons, a recent Logan High School graduate and son of a North Park Police officer, said he turned out to the vigil on Saturday because he “felt really awful,” so he wanted to show his support to the family of Lizzy.
“This just helps us remember her and celebrate her life,” Simmons said.
Coriann Crockett, of Logan, said she has two boys and brought them to the vigil. Crockett said she was stunned to hear news reports of Lizzy’s disappearance.
“It’s just sad. It should never have happened,” Crockett said. “This is not supposed to happen here in this valley.”
The vigil, she said, “just goes to show how much this community bonds together.”
Dianne Crockett, a registered nurse who founded “Babyland,” a section of the Logan Cemetery for children, also attended the vigil. She recently spoke with Jessica and her family, who expressed desire to have Lizzy buried there.
“I hope they get some peace,” Dianne said. “I want the family (to be) OK. I understand it’s going to take a long time. There’s a lot of support for them. They’re loved.”