More than 1,500 people gather to celebrate the boys, who died when their father blew up his home

By Mary Boone and Stephen M. Silverman
Updated February 11, 2012 05:00 PM
Credit: Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox/AP

More than 1,500 people attended a public memorial on Saturday to remember Charlie and Braden Powell, who died when their father, Josh Powell, intentionally blew up his house with the boys inside last Sunday.

The one-hour service, which began at 11 a.m. and was held at the Life Center Church in Tacoma, Wash., was a sad ending to the tragic, brief lives of Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, whose mother, Susan Powell, mysteriously disappeared in December 2009.

Friends and family gathered hours before the service began, standing in a light drizzle outside the church. The church lobby opened at 10, allowing guests to view photos of the boys. Balloons, teddy bears, floral wreaths and bouquets – several in Braden s favorite color, orange – paid tribute to the boys memory. Many in the crowd wore purple and blue ribbons in honor of Susan and her boys.

Law enforcement and fire and rescue officers, state legislators, the county prosecutor, teachers and classmates and social worker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, who was the last person to see the boys alive, were among the mourners.

Large video monitors within the sanctuary displayed a photo of Susan and the boys against a blue cloud background with the words “Together in the Arms of Jesus: Susan, Charlie and Braden.” A single gray casket topped with a spray of sunflowers and orange and yellow daisies sat at the front of the sanctuary. At 11 a.m. sharp, those in attendance stood while more than 50 extended members of the Cox family made their way to their seats at the front of the church. Pastor Dean Curry asked the crowd to sit while the Powell family made their way to seats in the church’s balcony.

“All sorts of things have been said about these boys and how this could have happened. But that is grown up talk and today is not about grownups; it is about the children,” said Curry. “We are here to celebrate Charlie and Braden who were full of energy, intellect, warmth and innocence.”

A choir of elementary school children sang while a slide show played with images of Braden and Charlie’s happier days – birthday celebrations, Halloween, snuggling with Grandpa Cox, and in the arms of their mother.

Pastors representing the host church, the Powell family and the Cox family led the service together. “The families here have been able to set aside some very dark and hurtful moments to celebrate these children,” said Rev. Curry. “They should be an example for all of us.”

Last Sunday, in a horrific turn of events, their father, Josh Powell, who had been named a person of interest in the Susan Powell case, attacked the boys with a hatchet before intentionally setting off a gas explosion and killing all three of them, police said.

A private family burial is to be held on Monday.

“We are so very appreciative of everything you are doing for us,” the boys’ maternal grandparents, Judy and Chuck Cox, said in a statement earlier this week.

“Your love and support is amazing, it helps us so much. We understand the deaths of Charlie and Braden have affected us all, and we are deeply touched by all you are doing for our family.”