SANDY — The same spirit that led neighbors to rush strangers into their homes as gunshots rang out in the street will also carry the grieving community through the loss of a mother and son killed by a gunman who then turned the weapon on himself.
That was the message spiritual and city leaders had for a hundred or so at an interfaith gathering Thursday night less than a mile from the scene of the tragedy two days earlier. The violence claimed the lives of Memorez Rackley, 39, and her 6-year-old son, Jase, as they walked home from school.
"We feel deep and real pain. That's not going to go away soon," said LDS Bishop Alan Matheson. Still, he urged those who attended the meeting in an LDS chapel "to do what may seem impossible now, and that is to forgive the unforgivable."
Bishop Matheson, stake President Kimo Esplin, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan and over a dozen other community and various religious leaders took turns at the lectern, encouraging neighbors to remember the loved ones killed in the shooting, seek help to work through grief and come together in order to heal.
On Tuesday, several drivers and homeowners near the school ushered children and adults into their homes and cars as the violence erupted in the street, police said.
"That’s the kind of community we really are," Dolan said, adding the same sense of generosity and unity would help community members lift each other out of sorrow.
Others joined in urging families against withdrawing from their neighbors.
Rev. Derek Filley, an evangelical pastor from Sandy Ridge Church, told the group to touch base often and step outside, take in fresh mountain air outside their homes in the foothills.
Residents also were reassured their police force was strong and devoted to protecting them. Officers were grieving, Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker said, and took the deaths particularly hard because they could do little to help. By the time they arrived at the scene, the violence was over.
"We’ll get through it and we’ll move forward, but we’ll never be quite the same," Thacker said.
The audience remained largely quiet, except for sniffles. A social worker and counselor advised the gathering that grief can take multiple forms and said it's important to tell children about the death and allow them to talk about it.
Mariah Christensen, who lingered after the meeting with her young daughter, said it would take the community some time to recover, but the meeting's practical lessons, spirituality and message of hope would help.
"This is a community that looks out for each other," she said.
A family spokesman confirmed Thursday that Myles Rackley remained in the intensive care unit at Primary Children's Hospital, but there is hope that the traumatic injury has not done lasting damage.
Jeff White, a longtime friend who is serving as a spokesman for the Rackley family, said Thursday that Myles was shot once through the neck. While long-term impacts of the wound are still unknown, he said the bullet exited cleanly near Myles' jaw, apparently without damaging any vertebrae.
As Myles recovers from the traumatic injury, White said the boy is being carefully monitored in the ICU.
"He is slowly and steadily improving," White said, noting that the boy was able to have some friends visit him briefly Thursday.
The mother and son were gunned down Tuesday in a violent and public murder-suicide near Brookwood Elementary School in Sandy.
Police say the gunman, Jeremy Patterson, 32, of Draper, had some kind of relationship with Rackley, but were still working to investigate the details of their connection. She and her husband had quietly separated months ago, but Dustin Rackley continued living nearby and the couple remained in close contact as they jointly raised their sons.
Myles and the 8-year-old daughter of a woman who tried to help Memorez Rackley were also shot before Patterson turned the gun on himself. Neighbors say the girl, who has not been identified, was shot through the leg and has been released from the hospital.
As the close-knit community hopes to heal from the violent event that played out in front of children and their parents who, like Rackley and her children, were headed home from school, stories are emerging of neighbors rushing to help one another in the aftermath of the shooting.
Tony Allred, a captain with the Salt Lake Fire Department, lives in the area and had volunteered to take his young daughter to a gymnastics lesson, a task he says his wife usually does.
As they were driving through the neighborhood, Allred said they came upon what looked to be "a really fresh car accident" between a large truck and a small SUV just a few cars ahead of them.
While the accident didn't appear serious, Allred said, "I noticed a woman on the ground, and real quickly after that, I heard a shot."
Allred continued to watch as a man came around the front of the small SUV, a gunshot rang out, and the man fell to the ground.
"At that point I was thinking that there was a shooter up toward the truck and that this was an active scene," Allred said, radioing for help as a woman hurried to the back seat of the car and began calling out that there were children inside.
Allred left his own daughter in his truck where he hoped she would be safe and rushed over to care for the injured children in the car.
But being at the scene without any of the supplies he would have while on duty as a firefighter, Allred said the best he could do was help where he could and count "the long seconds" until paramedics arrived.
Looking back, Allred said he is grateful he was in the area to help on a day when he normally wouldn't have been, and that his wife was spared from coming upon the scene. He is also glad that his daughter, safe in the back seat and distracted by her dog, didn't witness the shooting.
And Allred is quick to point out he wasn't the first person to run to help.
"I think it kind of shows … the neighborhood and community here," Allred said. "People who didn't know if it was a safe scene were coming in. The homeowners nearby were coming out to help, the people that heard the shots from the sidewalk were coming to help. … Every time I look up, there are more and more people — people from the community."
Funeral arrangements are being made for Rackley and her young son, White said, but the family is holding off scheduling the memorials as they wait for Myles to improve and focus on his recovery.
White said Myles' father, his older brother and his grandparents have all been overwhelmed by the support coming in from the public.
"Speaking for Dustin and the entire family, it's just pure amazement to see how people have come together," White said.
Those wishing to contribute to memorials may donate to the Rackley Memorial Fund at Mountain America Credit Union. A GoFundMe account has also been established in the family's name.
Over the past year, Myles had spent extensive amounts of time in the same hospital's ICU after an aneurysm in February 2016, the result of a malformed tangle of blood vessels in his brain. During that time, members of the Rackleys' community reached out to support the family and offer encouragement to the boy.
Sarah Weaver, who visited Rackley regularly for more than a decade through the area's LDS ward, said the return to Primary Children's Hospital following the shooting was especially painful without the hopeful mother at their side.
"(Tuesday) night we were right there, in the same room with the same child, doing the same thing, except under such different circumstances because the person that we knew could hold everyone together wasn't there this time," Weaver said.
Weaver, who is the editor of the LDS Church News, also spoke of Rackley's deep appreciation for hospital physicians and staff who cared for her son, as well as a special visit Rackley made earlier this year to provide dinner and encouragement to parents who found themselves in the same position.
Contributing: Andrew Adams