In the days after the disappearance and alleged murder of 5-year-old Elizabeth Shelley, several groups and individuals are finding answers to the ever-present question, “How can we help?”
One community group known as Families Feeding Families has spearheaded a project tying rainbow-colored ribbons for people to display to remember Lizzy.
“It’s just a little way we can help and let this family know that we’re thinking about her,” said Chantel Labrum, who provided her home to people tying ribbons on Friday.
Families Feeding Families founder Jaymee Kay Loftin Avery said after the group started coordinating the project, the Cache County Children’s Justice Center and the Victim’s Advocates Office approached them to ask if they could provide the rainbow decorations for Lizzy’s funeral on Tuesday.
The ribbons will decorate the funeral route, the vehicles, the motorcycle procession and hundreds of the first responders expected to attend, according to Avery. Many of those first responders participated in the five-day search for the missing girl.
Avery said one of Lizzy’s teachers told her that when asked her favorite color, the girl said: “I like all of them. I don’t like any more better than the rest. So my favorite color is rainbow.”
“So we’re going to do as much rainbow as we can,” Labrum said.
Lizzy’s obituary running in the Weekend Edition of The Herald Journal confirmed her love of rainbows.
“She always dreamed of growing wings and flying to her own special rainbow,” the family wrote.
The first volunteers to arrive at Labrum’s house Friday morning were five women from JBS-Swift in Hyrum. They got to work tying multicolored ribbons with an assortment of patterns.
Labrum’s daughter Morgan, 15, also pitched in.
The ribbon project “has a piece of her,” Morgan said, “and it’s showing respect for those who helped.”
Morgan said she heard about Lizzy’s disappearance from her parents, but hasn’t personally heard it talked about much at Green Canyon High School.
“It’s just hard for everyone, because there are so many little kids everywhere,” Morgan said. “It’s just hard to know that that happened, and there are so many families around, it’s just hard for everyone.”
As an admin of the Families Feeding Families page on Facebook, Avery said one thing that motivates her in the ribbon project is combating the negativity that can creep into online discussions. Avery believes that while “99%” of people in the valley are speaking from a place of genuine concern, it’s not acceptable to speculate that the family’s actions could have contributed to her death.
“Obviously, it’s just absolutely been devastating,” Avery said of Lizzy’s story. “But I think what has made it really hard is the negativism in the people who are making horrible comments and blaming the family. I think we have taken that really personally and are really trying to combat any of that ugliness with something positive.”
The story attracted national media attention: Lizzy’s disappearance; the search effort spanning days and involving hundreds of officers from local, state and national agencies; the arrest of and eventual criminal charges against her uncle Alex Whipple in connection with the case; and finally the discovery of the girl’s body within a quarter-mile of her home.
The conversation also exploded on social media as people were first asked to keep an eye out for the missing girl, then wondered what could have happened to her, and then as the days went on expressed their grief and anger.
That this could have happened to Lizzy here doesn’t square with so many people’s image of Cache Valley, Avery said.
“I’ve just heard that so much. ‘Not in our little valley, not in our little valley,’” Avery said. “I think the whole valley is kind of in shock, still.”
A candlelight vigil for Lizzy, approved by the family, has been planned for 8 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Cache County Courthouse grounds. A vigil was originally proposed for the same time on the sidewalks along the family’s block, but after concerns were raised for the family’s privacy it was moved.
The steps of Lizzy’s house are covered with stuffed animals and other items memorializing the girl. Television news crews, hoping to interview people who could give voice to the community’s grief, watched the home for hours the day after police found her body.
The family has announced a public viewing from 6-8 p.m. Monday at Nyman Funeral Home in Providence, which the community is invited to attend. The funeral will be Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to support the family in funeral and other costs, judging by the progress on a GoFundMe entitled “Lights on 4 Lizzy.” <https://www.gofundme.com/6ybheh-lights-on-4-lizzy> That GoFundMe campaign and the “Elizabeth Shelley Donation Account” at Zions Bank are two of the only three ways to donate approved by the family. Donations can also be sent by mail to Sara Owen, attn: Lizzy, to the Cache County Attorney’s Office, 199 N. Main Street, Logan UT 84321.
Jack’s Wood Fired Oven, a Logan pizzeria, will donate 20% of its Monday proceeds to the family, according to owner Marc Ensign.
“I’ve wanted to do something all week,” Ensign said. “As you well know, everybody in the community has been affected by this, and we just wanted to do something to help.”
Families Feeding Families is accepting monetary donations for the ribbon project via Venmo at FamiliesFF, and supplies can be dropped off at The Children’s Justice Center, care of Jodi Morgan, 1362 400 West in Logan, or at 725 E. 520 South in Smithfield.
Another ribbon-tying session, tentatively planned for Sunday night, is expected to be announced on Jaymee Kay Loftin Avery’s Facebook page.