GRUNDY, Va. -- A family and their community came together Wednesday to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a loved one who left the world much too soon.
Four-year-old Ethan Stacy died May 9 in Layton as the result of severe abuse allegedly inflicted by a stepfather. He was in Utah for a court-ordered summer visit with his mother. Both his mother and stepfather are currently jailed, and the case is under investigation.
On Wednesday, family and friends gathered at Grundy Funeral Home for Ethan's funeral. As mourners arrived, they greeted one another with hugs and with tears, then stopped at the small casket flanked by animals and toys.
Ethan's death touched hearts both in the Appalachia region and in Utah.
His father, Joe G. Stacy, paused to speak with journalists before the start of his son's funeral.
"I'm just numb," he said quietly. "Right now, I just want to take care of my son now."
He added that he was remembering all of the good times with Ethan.
"There were no bad times at all. It was all good times," the father said.
Family, local residents, Utah residents and people from across the nation have offered the Stacy family their care and support.
"I'm very, very grateful for everyone," Joe Stacy said. "You don't realize how many good people there are until something bad happens.
"I'll remember he was a loving boy, a very intelligent boy," he continued. "I haven't really reached where I believed this has happened to me and happened to him. I'm still going to believe he's coming home, and I know that he's not."
Many of the mourners who waited for the services to begin recalled the boy who touched their lives, and they hoped for justice.
"There's not enough justice for the person who did this," said Loretta Epling, of Poplar Creek, Va. Ethan was among the children who attended her nursery school class at the Vansant Church of Christ.
"I knew Ethan. He was an outstanding little fellow, and very polite," she said.
The service opened with a video made up of Ethan's childhood photographs: wearing a Transformers costume for Halloween; wearing a T-shirt warning he was a "Trouble Magnet"; images of him with his father and other members of the family; playing in the snow; and images of baby Ethan sleeping.
Songs, including "Arms of an Angel," played as the mourners watched, some sobbing as they remembered happier times.
In his eulogy, Evangelist Mike Rife recalled questions the disciples asked Jesus. First, he spoke about when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray.
"That's what we've been doing a week now," Rife told the mourners. "We wonder if our prayers have been answered."
As to whether prayers have been answered, Rife spoke of another question the disciples once asked Jesus: Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Christ replied by putting a child on his knee and telling them, "Unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
"When he left us, he was the greatest in the eyes of God. He was a child," Rife said.
Rife said Ethan would remind people that every day is a gift from God.
Though only 4 years old, Ethan would remind adults that bad things do happen, that nobody is immune from bad things happening in their lives and that everyone can have a bad side to their nature.
Quoting author Mark Twain, Rife stated, "We're all like the moon. We all have a dark side.
"That's why we need God's spirit, the Holy Spirit. I believe the little boy would stand up here and say, 'Listen, folks, God's in control, and I'm OK.' "
As the mourners filed out of the chapel and prepared for the journey to Clinch Valley Memorial Cemetery in Richlands, Va., Norman Hagerman and his Grundy-area music group sang, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."