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Neighborhood heartbroken over loss to family it supported through child's illness

SANDY — Tucked down between a few small hills on the east side of Sandy, members of a peaceful and close-knit neighborhood have spent the past year rallying around a family whose son nearly lost his life to a tangle of blood vessels in his brain.

Now, after an explosion of unimaginable violence, residents of the Willow Creek neighborhood are again reaching out to the Rackley family as 11-year-old Myles returned to the same intensive care unit, this time with critical gunshot injuries he sustained in a shooting that killed his mother and 6-year-old brother.

"Everyone felt like we'd had a miracle," Sarah Weaver, a friend of the family, said of Myles' recovery from the life-threatening malformation. "The community is heartbroken. This is a family that they prayed for and hoped for and were so happy for, and now they're devastated."

Myles was caught in the gunfire Tuesday when a man who police say had some kind of relationship with his mother attacked the family as they walked home from Brookwood Elementary School, killing Memorez Rackley, 39, and her 6-year-old son, Jase. The 8-year-old daughter of a woman Rackley flagged down for help just before the shootings was also shot and injured.

As the close-knit neighborhood again rallies around his family looking for ways to help, Dustin Rackley posted an emotional note on Facebook thanking all those who have reached out to him, saying their support is the only thing carrying him from one moment to the next.

He also said the tragedy has crushed his family.

"My wife Memorez and my Jasey Boo are no longer with us. … Myles is in the ICU showing the (world) once again just how tough he is. I failed to protect my family and a father's heart is truly broken," Dustin Rackley wrote.

He also noted that while his oldest son is safe, the teen is heartbroken.

Weaver, editor of the LDS Church News, has known the Rackleys for more than a decade through their LDS ward. For most of those years, Weaver was assigned to be Rackley's visiting teacher, keeping in touch to see how she was doing and coming monthly to her home.

As they cared for their son, Weaver said Memorez and Dustin Rackley inspired their neighbors through their optimism, resilience and commitment to their children. Energized by the parents' example, community members responded, helping whenever they could by raising money, providing meals, writing letters and helping in the yard.

Now, the neighborhood is again anxious to lift the family's burden, Weaver said.

Though the couple quietly separated months ago, Weaver said Dustin Rackley continued living nearby and the parents remained in close contact as they jointly raised their sons, often coming together to school functions and soccer games.

Between sports, school and family activities, Weaver said the Rackleys have always been an active bunch.

"They prioritized their kids," she said. "Their kids are busy, their kids are involved, they're active. On weekends they're fishing or boating or at soccer tournaments. It's hard to catch them at home because they're one of those families."

Weaver called the Rackleys, and especially their rambunctious three sons, beloved members of the neighborhood. After Tuesday's violence and the deaths of Memorez and Jase Rackley, Weaver questions what it will take to rebuild the area's sense of safety.

"There were a lot of kids who saw something occur, who heard something occur, or were involved in the commotion of being rounded up and shuffled into cars and houses," Weaver said. "The problem was that it got too quiet. … There was all this police tape and a neighborhood that's usually filled with kids and happiness was just deathly quiet."

Alan Matheson, who serves as bishop in the area's LDS ward, said the Rackley family is beloved by many. "A light has gone out of our neighborhood," he said.

The ward is arranging for community meetings with grief counselors in hopes of helping the neighborhood heal.

"This kind of violence was a shock to our peaceful neighborhood and it is affecting people of all ages," Bishop Matheson said. "We know that in addition to supporting the Rackley family, we also need to be supporting other members of the neighborhood. People who witnessed it, people who were friends, people who housed victims in their homes for a period of time until help arrived. They've all got to deal with the trauma."

Nearby Brookwood Elementary — which Weaver called the heart of the little neighborhood — is keeping its doors open through the end of the week to offer crisis counseling to anyone in the community who would like to talk, Canyons School District spokesman Jeff Haney said.

All three of the children who were shot attended the school, but as students arrived Wednesday for their final day of class before summer break, the school balanced between keeping its traditional last-day-of-school activities in hopes of restoring normalcy and giving the children an opportunity to talk about what happened.

Moving forward, Weaver hopes the community can heal from the tragedy and reclaim the security she has shared with her neighbors all these years.

"The question is, is there now a generation who aren't going to want to walk home from school?" Weaver asked. "We're a safe, friendly, east-side Sandy neighborhood. Is that the cost of this? I hope not."