Stansbury Park » It was a memorial for a young man left trapped in a Utah County cave after his death in a spelunking accident, but John Jones' family on Saturday found itself comforting those who had tried to save him.
While recounting his son's commitment to his church and his faith in spiritual redemption after death, father Leon Jones implored search-and-rescue team members not to despair. He asked for a show of hands from the rescuers, and called them "part of our family."
"It was John's time to go. You were not meant to be successful on this one," Leon Jones said. "We love you and we're so thankful for you."
John Jones died late Wednesday after becoming stuck in an unmapped finger of the Nutty Putty Cave west of Utah Lake. He died following a 27-hour rescue effort involving 137 people, about two dozen of whom were among the approximately 400 who attended the memorial service at the Stansbury Park LDS Stake Center. Officials decided Friday to close the popular cave with Jones' body entombed.
After the ceremony, Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Tom Hodgson marveled at the family's grace.
"It's amazing to us that in the family's time of mourning it's the rescuers they were thinking of," said Hodgson, who led his county's efforts in the cave.
It has been a difficult week for the rescuers from his team and Utah Cave Rescue, he said, in part because they're not used to leaving a body behind. But the rescuers grew close to the Jones family during their efforts and wanted to support them here Saturday.
"You spend some time talking to a family as loving as this one and you can't help but feel close to them," Hodgson said.
Jones, 26, was a medical student in Charlottesville, Va., who was home in Utah for the Thanksgiving holiday. He grew up in St. George, where he graduated from Dixie High School. His parents have since relocated here to Tooele County.
His pregnant wife, Emily, and his sisters remembered him during Saturday's ceremony as a fun-loving and humorous man devoted to Mormon scriptures and the missionary work he had performed in Ecuador. Emily Jones said she misses her husband but found peace during the rescue attempt when she asked her father-in-law to perform a blessing for her husband as they waited in an ambulance.
She relayed word of the blessing to her husband by radio, she said. That was when rescuers initially succeeded in moving him, before a pulley anchor became detached from rock and sent him falling to where he would ultimately die wedged in a narrow opening 100 feet below the surface and 400 feet from the cave entrance.
"That peace and that faith have not left me," she said, though at the time she was hopeful for his rescue.
She smiled through tears when she noted that her 14-month-old daughter Lizzie had been running around the stake center and making mischief during the ceremony. She said she imagined her husband smiling at that.
LDS Stake President Elliot Morris closed the memorial service with a spiritual thanks to the rescuers, saying their selfless act showed the strength of human bonds.
"In a very real way, you have rescued all of us who are here today," he said. "I was moved by your risks. You saved me from a cave-like darkness that I would call a darkness of cynicism and doubt."