A few weeks ago my little community went through an unspeakable tragedy. One that no community is ever prepared for. A beautiful vibrant 5 year old girl named Lizzy Shelley was taken from her bedroom by her uncle, her own flesh and blood, and went missing. The uncle was arrested within hours, but refused to reveal the location where Lizzy was. For days police officers from all over Utah and Idaho searched for her. And those people who weren’t able to search prayed….hard. Then finally 5 days later the uncle finally drew a map to her location and her little body was found. Our police chief openly cried during the announcement that she was found. And everyone who watched cried with him. Panic started to spread through the town. This doesn’t happen here. We’re safe here. But it did happen here, and nobody knew how to handle it. Quickly after that rainbow ribbons started popping up all over town. Lizzy’s favorite color was rainbow, because she couldn’t choose just one color. There were candlelight vigils and fundraisers for the community to show their support at. The funeral was private, as it should have been. But images of the tiny white coffin with rainbow butterflies spread fast. In an effort to try and pay our respects I took my kids to a spot on the cemetery route, and along with so many other families we watched the procession go by. There were hundreds of motorcycles, decorated with rainbows, that lead the procession. Then that very night, while attending an outdoor event with my family, we had a sudden 5 minute rainstorm. When it ended there were rainbows in every direction. You could feel her all around the valley. It was quite a sight and something I’ll never forget.
Lizzy’s death wasn’t random at all. The uncle didn’t have to break in or threaten to get her. He was invited into their home. And being completely honest, as a mother it is incredibly difficult to not judge Lizzy’s mother. She invited evil into her home. She knew he was unstable, she knew of his past history. He had been estranged from the family, even homeless at times. And he had struggled with substance abuse problems along with a long criminal history. But she invited him over to “drink beer and play video games” according to the local paper. And she went to sleep knowing he was still there. She neglected to protect her daughter from this evil person and his intentions. I understand trying to mend torn relationships, putting the past behind you. But as a mother I’ve had to make hard decisions for my children to protect them. I’ve had to take people out of their lives to protect them from potential physical or emotional harm. Some of those people have been close friends or family members. I’ve missed out on parties or get togethers to keep them safe, even if the danger isn’t always prevalent. It isn’t always fun and it doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes I desperately want to let my guard down and participate in fun events. But its my job to keep them safe. We vaccinate our kids, lock up medications and cleaning products, and make them buckle up in the car. We make them brush their teeth so they don’t get cavities and bathe so they don’t stink and get bullied. And if you’re like me, harass my kids’ poor new teachers every year to make sure their safety procedures are up to date. So why wouldn’t any one of us protect them from people who could hurt them?
That being said, as difficult as it is not to judge her, it’s impossible to not hurt for her. There are no perfect parents in this world. I am most definitely not a perfect parent. I yell, swear too much, and sometimes ignore them to look at my phone. I get irritated when they ask for food every few hours and by 9 p.m. I don’t have 1 ounce of patience left in my body. Sometimes I go to bed and I cry because I’m sure I’m screwing them up for life. Parenting is really hard. Lizzy’s mother made a mistake. A really terrible one. We all do. Except most of the time our mistakes don’t take our children forever. She’ll have to live with that mistake forever. And that breaks my heart from her. Lizzy didn’t deserve any of this. She deserved to live a full life. But her mother didn’t deserve it either. Because no parent, no matter where on the “perfect level” you fall deserves this. I hope someday she can find peace.
If there is a silver lining to such a tragedy, it would have to be all the love that came from the people in this community. When we experience tragedies our town we experience them together. There is so much good in this town. Local restaurants and grocery stores donated food and drink to the searchers. Different events were held in Lizzy’s honor and pre-scheduled events donated their proceeds to her family. People decorated their homes with rainbows to remember her by, my house included. Even random people who just felt lost and confused would just post on our local Facebook page and people would chime in with support and resource options. The panic that was originally felt in this town was met with love and compassion. I was touched by the outreach, and I know Lizzy’s family was too. Our entire town was changed because of this event. I think we may be a little slower to anger, a little more patient. We might jump to support each other and help when we can. Or maybe we’ll just love and hold onto our families a little more. However we do it, may we always Live like Lizzy.