WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Alex Hurley was an “All-American boy” who could have lived anywhere.
That’s according to Toni Brey, who said Alex always greeted her with a hug and a bright smile. He was a courageous face of “love and light in a difficult world,” she said.
“Thank you, Alex, for sharing your light with this world,” Brey said. “May your sweet soul be comforted at last in the peace of everlasting light.”
Brey and several others spoke Sunday evening here from a stage made of snow to a crowd of about 200 at a candlelight memorial celebrating the life of Alex. People who spoke read poems and prayers, talked about how tragic Alex’s death was and expressed guilt for “not protecting one of our own.”
Alex was found dead in his home on Buffalo Drive near Hebgen Lake on Feb. 3. Police said in charging documents that videos found on cellphones showed his family tortured and beat him in the months leading up to his death.
Alex’s grandparents, James Sasser Jr. and Patricia Batts, and uncle, 14-year-old James Sasser III, are each charged with felony deliberate homicide in the death of Alex. Gage Roush, 18, is charged with felony assault on a minor in connection to Alex’s death.
Prosecutors allege Alex’s grandmother and uncle were seen on video not allowing Alex to use the bathroom, beating him with a paddle and forcing him to remain in a squatting position despite his crying and saying he was in pain. Alex’s uncle also admitted that he and Batts took turns being duct-taped to Alex to keep him from running away at night, court documents say.
Roush was seen in a video hitting Alex with a wooden paddle, court documents say. Roush later admitted he forced Alex to remain sitting against a wall while Roush hit him.
At Pioneer Park’s parking lot on Sunday, Brey said seeing people hold candles and glow sticks made her think of Alex.
“I think of the bravery and the strength it takes to be a light when the darkness is all around you,” she said. “When it threatens to consume you — to smile when others make you cry.”
Brey said these are the darkest days for the town. She said people are wondering what could have been done to prevent this from happening.
“We feel like we came up far too short in protecting one of our own in the darkness of this world,” Brey said.
West Yellowstone Police Chief Scott Newell said it’s tragic when a life is cut short, and that what happened to Alex violated the city’s trust. It’s also an opportunity, he said, because it’s a time of darkness when people see the “little flicker of light” that is the “magic of West Yellowstone.”
“We have tremendous love for this community and a tremendous care for one another, and today is a great example of that,” Newell said.
Blu Kropp, of the Church of Christ, didn’t know Alex, but said he’s questioned whether he would have reported seeing anything if he did know him. He said he knows a lot of people close to “the circumstance” who are asking themselves the same thing, and questioning if the government, churches and the education system failed Alex.
Those institutions are here to serve the residents, he said, and it gives people the right to ask tough questions and get answers. But, Kropp said, the people closest to Alex failed those resources and hid from being accountable.
“Even in this small community — even though we are so isolated, it seems sometimes, from so many things — we have everything necessary to have given Alex a life of joy and hope,” he said.