WEST YELLOWSTONE — About 200 people attended a weekend vigil for a 12-year-old Montana boy who was beaten to death earlier this month.
James “Alex” Hurley of West Yellowstone died on Feb. 3 of head injuries, officials said. His grandparents — James Sasser Jr. and Patricia Batts — and his 14-year-old uncle face deliberate homicide charges. They have not entered pleas. Their public defenders, Annie DeWolf and Ryan Peabody, were not immediately available for comment Monday.
Alex had been living with his grandparents for about two years and had been taken out of school in West Yellowstone in September, charging documents said.
Prosecutors said Alex’s grandmother and uncle were seen in video not allowing him to use the bathroom, beating him with a paddle and forcing him to remain in a squatting position while he cried in pain. Other evidence indicated he was beaten with a wooden paddle and that his family withheld food from him.
Speakers at Sunday’s vigil at Pioneer Park read scripture and poems and expressed their grief, anger and regret over Alex’s death, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
Toni Brey, speaking from a stage made of snow, called Alex an All-American boy who always greeted her with a hug and a smile.
“I think of the bravery and the strength it takes to be a light when the darkness is all around you,” Brey said. ”When it threatens to consume you — to smile when others make you cry.”
She said people are wondering what could have been done to prevent Alex’s death.
“We feel like we came up far too short in protecting one of our own,” Brey said.
Police Chief Scott Newell said Alex’s death is a tragedy that violated the city’s trust.
“We have tremendous love for this community and a tremendous care for one another,” he said.
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