WEST JORDAN — Shelby Andrews would have turned 12 today, and her mother has decorated her grave with a birthday banner, balloons and stuffed animals.
"We figure even though she gets older every year, she'll still be just a little girl," Kimberly Hale said, wiping away tears from underneath her sunglasses.
As she hugged her husband, Guy, they looked down at a brand-new headstone marking Shelby's final resting place. On the slain girl's birthday, the Hales want to say one thing to the people whose generous donations paid for the headstone: "Thank you."
"We'll never be able to thank these people enough for their love and support," Kimberly said.
It's hard for Guy Hale to visit Shelby's grave.
"I hate having to come visit her here," he says after each visit to the cemetery.
Ten-year-old Shelby Andrews was slain in a horrific case of child abuse in August 2006. Her father, Ryan Andrews, is now in prison for murder. Her stepmother, Angela Ray Andrews, recently pleaded guilty to murder and sex abuse charges and is due to be sentenced next month.
Shelby's murder was painful enough. But it was even more difficult when the family would visit her grave, where a tiny brass plaque marked Shelby's final resting place. Weathered and faded, the name Shelby Laice Andrews was barely legible. Her family couldn't afford to buy a proper headstone.
"To us, $2,000 at that time, it was out of sight for us," said Shelby's grandfather, Dale Larabee.
The family went broke trying to deal with the aftermath of the girl's slaying. Funeral expenses were taken care of by donations. After a story about their plight appeared in the Deseret Morning News in July, readers from all over the country donated money to purchase the headstone.
"It sure renews your faith in people," Larabee said.
Kimberly Hale said she didn't know her daughter was being abused. Ryan Andrews had sole custody, and her visits with their children became less frequent over time.
"We kind of suspected something was going on, but not anything to this extreme," she said. "When the kids would come to visit, it would take them literally a half a day to open up and talk to us about normal stuff like, 'How's school? How's life?'"
Shelby lived with her father and his wife inside their Syracuse home. Police said the little girl had been beaten for weeks. Angela Andrews is accused of forcing Shelby to eat her own feces, sexually abusing her, and even slamming the girl's head into some stairs.
On the day Shelby died, Angela Andrews put her in a linen closet. Shelby asked if she could crawl into a cubby area that she could fit into and breathe.
"Angela said no," Ryan Andrews wrote in a confession that was read aloud in court.
In the written statement, Ryan Andrews said that as he removed the door knob to prevent Shelby from getting out, Angela Andrews beat his daughter in the chest with her forearm with so much force that the little girl couldn't breathe.
"Angela and I knew the space between the shelving in the closet and the closet door was too small for her to fit, but we put her into the closet anyway and forced the door shut," he said. "We then left the room and went to watch television."
As they watched TV, Shelby cried that she couldn't breathe and was vomiting. Ryan Andrews said his wife told him not to let her out because "Shelby was just trying to play me." When they later opened the door, Shelby's body fell to the floor.
Ryan Andrews pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder in January and has been sentenced to 15-years-to-life in prison. Angela Andrews pleaded guilty earlier this month to first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony sexual abuse of a child.
Guy and Kimberly Hale were there.
"It was a big sigh of relief when she did," Kimberly Hale said. "It's also frustrating that it took a year."
The deal spares Shelby's brother and sister from having to testify at trial, but it also leaves many questions unanswered about what happened to her inside that home.
"There's probably some things that are better left not known," Kimberly Hale said, her voice breaking into sobs.
Angela Andrews is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 19.
If there is any good to come from Shelby Andrews' death, Guy Hale said it's a promise that it will never happen again.
"Because of Shelby, HB93 passed," he said. "More good than bad has come out of this, for sure."
The law makes the death penalty possible in cases where a child is killed during an act of abuse, sexual assault or kidnapping. Davis County prosecutors said they could not prove that Ryan or Angela Andrews intended to kill Shelby. Kimberly Hale said that when she saw her daughter's body, it was covered head to toe in bruises and bite marks.
Now, the Hales are speaking out against child abuse, urging people to be vigilant.
"This is happening right next door. People need to pay more attention. If they think something's weird, call it in!" Kimberly Hale pleaded.
"It's better for it to be nothing than something," Guy Hale added.
"What if we had, just once, gone on our instincts and called somebody to go to the house?" Kimberly Hale wondered aloud. "Shelby might still be here."
The headstone reads: "Our Beloved Tinkerbell. Shelby Laice Andrews Hale."
"She has a final resting place," Kimberly Hale said as she stood over the headstone, wiping away tears. "Now everybody knows that she's here and not just walking across her."
"Tinkerbell" was Shelby's nickname, after her favorite Disney character. She used to watch cartoons with her grandpa and dance around the kitchen on top of Guy Hale's toes. The Hales are now trying to posthumously adopt Shelby to make her part of their new family. Guy Hale already has adopted Shelby's 15-year-old brother and 9-year-old sister.
To mark Shelby's birthday, the family will come here to the cemetery. Her brother and sister haven't seen the headstone yet. Guy Hale said Shelby's siblings are still dealing with the trauma of the abuse. Kimberly Hale is still facing her grief.
"People say it gets easier over time. It doesn't get easier over time," she said. "You learn how to cope."