Vader Assembly of God Church Pastor Tracy Durham speaks during a memorial service Saturday for Jasper Henderling-Warner, a 3-year-old boy who died Oct. 5 and has been described by authorities as having suffered prolonged physical abuse, leading to his death.
Local community members gathered Saturday to memorialize the life of Jasper Henderling-Warner, a 3-year-old boy who died Oct. 5 from injuries sustained during prolonged physical abuse while living with his guardians in Vader.
Held at the Vader Assembly of God Church, many residents said they felt particularly impacted by the loss of the child, though many had not known him personally, and gathered to call for an increased level of awareness and vigilance to combat the challenge of domestic violence.
"All of us have been impacted in some way," stated Pastor Tracy Durham during the service, who was among a number of individuals sharing that day. "Our hearts are grieving over the loss of an innocent child."
Durham said the death of Henderling-Warner has presented some very difficult questions, some of which he said we may never know the answer to, such as: Why did he have to suffer so severely? What could we have done to prevent his death? What could compel a person to commit such an act?
Durham said the couple caring for Henderling-Warner, Brenda and Danny Wing, who were arrested Nov. 7 and charged with his death, had taken their family to a Sunday service just two weeks before Oct.5, and some church members have been struggling with the question of what could have been done differently to help save the child.
"There probably isn't anything we could have done," said Durham, stating the Wings had been extended an opportunity to find help if they were in need and, in Durham's words, "chose darkness over light."
But he said there are some questions the community can readily find answers to, such as knowing Henderling-Warner is no longer suffering, knowing he is in the hands of a loving God, and knowing there is something the community can do to help prevent these tragedies in the future.
Durham said it is important now for those within Vader and elsewhere to begin building relationships with their neighbors and others in the community, to build a network of support so those who are in need of help know who they can turn to, and those unable to call for help will at least have someone near enough to tell when something is wrong.
"We are committing ourselves to reach out to others in love," he said, stating he wanted to challenge the faithful to be a reflection of God in their community.
Also speaking of community action was Vader Mayor Ken Smith, who said the death of Henderling-Warner has had a personal impact on his life through his role in office.
Smith explained, on Sept. 25, a representative of the Human Response Network, which seeks to help those suffering domestic abuse, approached the City Council with a proclamation declaring October Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which the council subsequently approved Smith to sign.
Reading from the proclamation on Saturday, Smith described domestic violence as a widespread problem impacting every community and crossing every social, economic, religious and cultural barrier. He stated how, when the proclamation was brought to the council, he frankly did not believe it was an outstanding problem facing Vader, but said the death of Henderling-Warner has since given the document "very real significance."
"I propose, here and now, that we, as residents of Vader and concerned citizens from wherever we live, to personally embrace the contents of this proclamation," he said. "I propose we do this by raising awareness of the evils of domestic violence with our friends, our neighbors and family members. I advise all here to be observant for signs of such abuse and report it to the appropriate authorities. If we embrace this responsibility, we accept our personal responsibility to do what we can to prevent anyone else, particularly an innocent child, from suffering like Jasper did."
In addition to speakers, the service included musical performances and scripture readings, most prominently from Matthew 19:14, which states, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Durham closed his thoughts with a poem by Vickie Tushingham titled Just for Today, which speaks about how to address grief and loss one day at a time. It encourages others to take comfort in knowing, if there was anything you could have done to save the child you lost, you would have done it; that you can be grieving and still be able to reach out to others in grief; and that "grief is the price we pay for loving," and it probably hurts because you cared.
Residents from Vader and the surrounding areas attended the service for Henderling-Warner, pictured on a screen at the top-right, which had been organized largely by staff at City Hall and involved participation from local church groups.