5 girls who died are `little angels'

Five little girls who died Aug. 7 of heat stroke after they accidentally locked themselves in the trunk of a car while playing were called "little angels" by President Thomas S. Monson and others at a joint funeral service Aug. 12.

President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, presided over and addressed the funeral of Jaesha Smith, 4, Audrey Smith, 2, Ashley Richardson, 3, Alisha Richardson, 6, and McKell "Pickles" Shae Ann Hedden, 5.The Smith girls are sisters and daughters of Paul and Dixie Smith, West Valley City. Ashley and Alisha Richardson, also sisters, are daughters of Kevin and Liza Richardson, Magna, Utah, and cousins of the Smith girls. McKell, daughter of Charmion Dickinson and Roy Hedden, was a West Valley City neighborhood playmate of the others.

Joining President Monson in addressing the service in the Salt Lake Hunter Utah Stake Center were Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy and president of the Utah North Area, and Bishop Steven L. Bullock of the Highland 15th Ward, Highland Utah East Stake. Also speaking were Laura Cross, Karen Perry, Krystal Richardson, Doris Hedden and Tawnya Luke. Bishop Craig M. Hughes of the Salt Lake Centennial Park Ward, Salt Lake Hunter Stake, conducted the service. The invocation and benediction were offered by Bishop Dan L Greenland of the Kearns (Utah) 12th Ward and Bishop Gregory D. Wilkinson of the Parkside Ward, Magna Utah Stake.

Three caskets lined the front of the chapel, with Jaesha and Audrey Smith sharing one casket, Ashley and Liza Richardson sharing another, and McKell Hedden reposing in the third.

Addressing the funeral congregation of some 1,300 people, President Monson spoke of the outpouring of love and respect shown by hundreds of people who, in the days since the tragedy, slowly drove past the scene. Many left flowers or balloons as tokens of their sympathy. President Monson and his wife, Frances, were among those who drove past the site to express condolences. "We felt we were on holy ground," he said.

Standing at the podium overlooking the flower-laden caskets, President Monson expressed the desire and prayer to help "close wounds, to provide comfort and to inspire eternal decisions."

He said that death frequently comes as an intruder and often hushes the laughter of little children. He spoke of the girls with happy hearts and glee-filled laughter who played games that children play. "I testify to you all that all we knew and loved about Alisha, Ashley, McKell, Audrey and Jaesha continues. Their spirits have simply returned to that loving Heavenly Father who gave them life," he said.

President Monson said that before the funeral service he had met with President Gordon B. Hinckley and President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency. He said that he brought a message from the First Presidency: There is one phrase which should be erased from your thinking and from the words you speak aloud. It is the phrase,If only.' It is counterproductive and is not conducive to the spirit of healing and of peace. Rather, recall the words of Proverbs: `Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.' " (Prov. 3:5, 6.)

President Monson spoke of having attended the viewing of the little girls on the evening prior to their funeral, at which time he noticed that each child held a soft toy to cuddle. He quoted Eugene Field's poem, "Little Boy Blue," about a young child who died. The poem speaks of the faithful toys "Awaiting the touch of a little hand, The smile of a little face; And they wonder, as waiting the long years through In the dust of that little chair, What has become of our Little Boy Blue Since he kissed them and put them there."

President Monson said that God, in His infinite mercy, has not left grieving loved ones to wonder. "He has provided truth," he declared. "He will inspire an upward reach to Heavenly Father and outstretched arms to embrace you. Jesus promises you: `I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.' " (John 14:18.)

President Monson said that none of the little girls had reached the age of accountability, the age of 8. He quoted words of Joseph Smith, which provide comfort to grieving families: " `The mother [and father] who laid down their little children, being deprived of the privilege, the joy, and the satisfaction of bringing them up to manhood or womanhood in this world, would, after the resurrection, have all the joy, satisfaction and pleasure, and even more than it would have been possible to have had in mortality, in seeing their children grow to the full measure of the stature of their spirits.' (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine.) This is as the balm of Gilead to those who grieve, to those who have loved and lost precious children."

President Monson spoke of the comfort and sealing powers found in temples, and said that these little girls can lead those who have the faith to follow them, even to heaven.

Elder Morrison said that for mourners, with their limited knowledge and judgment, there "remains a firm anchor for all our hopes and aspirations." He quoted from the 11th chapter of 1 Nephi: "I do not know the meaning of all things; [nevertheless] I know that [God] loves his children."

Elder Morrison said that God, who feeds the fowls of the air and clothes the grass of the field, knows and loves each of His children. "He longs to encircle us `eternally in the arms of his love.' (See 2 Ne. 1:15.) I am confident that these five little angels are now cradled in His loving arms."

He said that Latter-day Saints proclaim to all the world that humankind is eternal. "Life is not bounded on the one side by the cradle and on the other by the grave," he said. "We lived before we came to this earth. Mortality is but a way-station on an eternal journey. The door which closes on mortality opens on the celestial vistas of immortality. Against that perspective, these words of the Prophet Joseph Smith take on new meaning, particularly when considered against the background of today's tragedy:

" `The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil and we shall have them again. . . .

" `The only difference between the old and the young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world.' " (Doctrinal History of the Church 4:553-554.

Numerous floral arrangements, many pink in color and some in the shape of hearts, filled the chapel and lined the hallway of the stake center. Musical selections were drawn from Primary children's songs, including "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," sung by three young women, Sarah, Marissa and Amanda Hedden, cousins to McKell.

A West Valley City Police Department motorcycle honor guard led the funeral procession to the cemetery. Behind the three hearses followed West Valley City Fire Department's "Engine 5" and rescue workers, representative of those who responded to the scene when the girls' bodies were discovered in the car trunk. The little girls were buried in two vaults at one gravesite in a West Valley City memorial park.

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