FLDS: Not appropriate to bury baby in church cemetery

Infant's father had left the sect, but court-appointed fiduciary gave permission for burial.

Salt Lake Tribune/March 29, 2009

Colorado City, Arizona - Little Caden Rex Stubbs was buried Saturday in the shade of a juniper tree next to the red cliffs in the community cemetery of Colorado City, Ariz.

About 75 family members and friends stood in a circle at the grave site where the 8-month-old's tiny casket, trimmed in baby blue, rested between bouquets of flowers while a hymn was sung and a dedicatory prayer delivered.

"I wanted him buried next to my two brothers," said Caden's father, Curtis Stubbs, while his mother, Beth Stubbs, was comforted by friends.

The burial was a fulfillment of his parents' wish to have their son, who died last Monday, buried in the family plot.

It also represents the latest example of the fragile coexistence between members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and nonmembers.

Colorado City and the adjoining Utah town of Hildale are home to the church.

Caden, who died after contracting respiratory syncytial virus, was the youngest son of Curtis and Beth.

Curtis left the sect, moved away from the community, married, joined the mainstream LDS Church and then returned to Colorado City about three years ago. His brother Shane followed a similar path.

After his nephew's death, Shane Stubbs contacted Guy Jessop Jr., sexton for the Isaac Carling Cemetery in Colorado City on Wednesday to request permission and help burying the baby next to the baby's uncles, Ritchie Stubbs and Skippy Stubbs.

The Stubbs family has 16 plots in the cemetery.

Shane Stubbs said he was asked which plot the family wanted to use, about the mortuary handling the service, and then was told the sect's council would have to approve the burial.

"That is the last I ever heard from him," Shane Stubbs said.

On Friday, Shane Stubbs called Guy Jessop again to let him know the family would be digging out the grave site and was told the council still needed to give its approval.

"I said, 'You better hurry quick. We've got to roll on with this thing," Shane Stubbs said. Hours later, Shane Stubbs called again and asked for help locating the proper place to dig.

"I said, 'It sure would be nice if you came up and made sure we aren't digging in the wrong spot,' " Shane Stubbs said. "He said, 'Don't get yourself in trouble.' And I said, 'We're trying not to; that's why we called you several times.'

"That is the last I heard from him," he said.

Meanwhile, he contacted Bruce R. Wisan, the court-appointed fiduciary managing the United Effort Plan Trust, about using the cemetery.

The trust holds virtually all land and property in the twin towns.

Wisan also was contacted by an attorney representing the FLDS, who said the sect felt the cemetery was open only to active members.

Wisan gave the Stubbses a letter authorizing use of a plot.

"As the Trust tries to administrate nonreligiously, I thought it would be appropriate that the Trust give permission for the burial," Wisan said in an e-mail sent to the attorneys general in Utah and Arizona.

He also sent a letter granting permission to use the cemetery to the Stubbses.

"As fiduciary for the UEP Trust, I certainly give permission to the Stubbs family to use a plot in the Carling Cemetery for their baby son and give my personal condolences to them at this time for their loss," he wrote.

With that permission in hand, the family dug the grave themselves.

Shane Stubbs said Isaac Carling, for whom the cemetery was named, donated the land so the community would have a place to bury family members "and to find out that there are certain people who are judging whether one person can be buried here or not, I don't think he'd be happy with that at all."

"The thing is here the FLDS people are saying, 'Poor us, we're being picked on by all these people,' when I don't think that's as true as they think it is," Shane Stubbs said.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said the Stubbs may have 16 relatives buried there or space for 16 to be buried, but that no one owns plots in the cemetery.

Jessop said people are buried in the cemetery by invitation of the church, including some nonmembers who are buried in the cemetery.

"We send our condolences to the family, but it's a church cemetery and people have always been buried there at the invitation of the church," Jessop said.

He did not think it was appropriate for Wisan to make the decision that Caden be buried in the cemetery.

He also questioned the attorney general's office and others who said they would protect the land and now appear to be standing on the sidelines.

"This is another example of our constitutional rights being violated by exerting corrupt powers over our church," Jessop said.

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