A motorcycle crashed, a son died and a Utah mother's heart broke
Taylorsville • She comes to the cemetery with plastic snowflakes to hang over her son's grave. When it's not so cold, she'll sit for a while with a book and talk to her baby.
She doesn't want him to be alone, the mother said. Especially not around the holidays.
The mother had two Christmases with her child a bright-eyed, curly-haired boy who loved to dance and shoot hoops and cuddle before he died in a motorcycle crash that broke his father's collarbone and destroyed a family.
RJ Moore was 22 months, 2 days and 22 hours old when he took his last breath.
It's a number Sequoia Moore has committed to memory. It's a threshold that she dreads crossing again.
On June 7, 2014, as much time will have passed for the mother without her son as with him. She's already celebrated two Christmases in her child's absence. It doesn't get easier, she said.
"People tell me he's in a better place now," the mother said, tears falling from her blue eyes. "But there's no better place for my baby than in my arms."
Now, nearly two years after RJ's death, Sequoia Moore is afraid that she'll lose her baby again to time, to the past.
More than anything, the mother said, she doesn't want the world to forget that her son was here, that he mattered.
Sequoia Moore, whose home is covered with photographs and whose phone and car and locket bear her chid's initials, is doing everything she can to keep his memory alive.
On Friday, another chapter closed in the aftermath of RJ's death. The child's father, Shannon Terrell Moore, was sentenced to one year in jail and three years of probation after a jury in November convicted him of child abuse homicide, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, along with misdemeanor counts of improperly riding a motorcycle and failing to provide protective gear to a minor.
The father, who told 3rd District Judge Deno Himonas that he wished it had been him rather than his son, was handcuffed and taken to jail immediately.
Sequoia Moore left the courtroom in tears.
"There's no way you can put a number on my son's life," she said Saturday. "There aren't enough years left in Shannon's life to make up for what he took away from RJ."
'Miracle baby' • Sequoia Moore always dreamed of being a mom.
The second-oldest of six, she was used to taking care of her younger siblings. But it was never a chore, the woman said. She fantasized about the day she would have children of her own to care for and coddle.
Moore, now 37, first married when she was 25. But no matter how she tried, Moore said, she couldn't seem to get pregnant.
"It just never happened," Moore recalled. "I prayed for a child, but it never worked until RJ."
She and Shannon Moore had been together for a year and a half when she learned she was pregnant. The first-time mom had little trouble: no morning sickness, no weird cravings, she said.
"It was the best pregnancy ever," she said. "He was my miracle baby."
Richard James Moore was born on Oct. 2, 2010, at Riverton Memorial Hospital. He was 6 pounds and 14 ounces. A soft wisp of hair covered his small head.
"I bawled when I saw him," the mother said. "Everything I ever wanted was right there in my arms."
From the moment he was born, RJ became the subject of hundreds of photos. Sequoia Moore, a professional photographer, said she didn't want to lose a moment.
Today, she has them organized by month and year. She stores them on her computer a visual chronicle of RJ, from infancy to his untimely death.
At 11 weeks, the mother swore, she heard her baby say "mom" for the first time.
He was in his crib, getting fussy. She had been trying to entertain him with stuffed animals when the baby said, exasperated, "Mom!"
At 5 months, he had learned the word "dad" and grew his first tooth.
He was learning shapes and colors, could act out the hand motions to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Twinkle Twinkle" at bedtime.
By 18 months, the toddler was walking and talking. One day, the mother said, he decided he wanted to use the toilet.
"He just came up to me and said, 'Mom? Potty!' " Sequoia Moore said. "I swear he was a little genius."
As he grew, RJ enjoyed running and jumping, playing basketball with his dad at the courts in their Taylorsville apartment complex and dancing around the living room buck naked.
He was an affectionate boy, who loved to snuggle and give kisses. He had caramel skin, brown eyes and a big smile. On each shoulder, a dimple dotted his skin.
"Now I know why," the mother said. "They were marked so God could put his angel wings back on."
The crash • Shannon Moore, 49, told a judge Friday that Aug. 5, 2012, was not the first time he had taken his son out on the motorcycle.
At his November trial, Moore told a jury that he had driven all of his four children around on his motorcycle when they were young seated between his legs at the front of the bike, Moore would place one hand on the handlebars, one arm wrapped around the child.
"We rode that motorcycle together almost every day," said Shannon Moore, who testified in his own defense. "I loved my son."
Sequoia Moore remembers that morning with a grimace. She was getting ready when her husband said she was taking RJ for a ride. She asked him not to, told Shannon Moore to walk instead.
"We had [ridden on the motorcycle] once before as a family but I was holding RJ and we were going really slow," Sequoia Moore said. "Still. I didn't like it. My gut told me it wasn't safe. Even if they were going slow, a car could have backed out at any moment and hit them. What they were doing that day was way too fast, way too dangerous."
Minutes later, her cell phone rang. A neighbor had seen the crash. She needed to get down there right away, the neighbor said.
"I ran over barefoot, I didn't even think to put shoes on. When I got there, I asked the officer, 'Where's my family?' " Sequoia Moore said. "But I looked at all the lights and the police cars and I just knew. "
The baby was dead before his mother reached the crash site.
A medical examiner testified that RJ died on impact. His head hit the concrete as the motorcycle skidded out of control.
Prosecutors said the bike was traveling at speeds over 40 mph. When Shannon Moore tried to take a sharp turn, his brakes locked, flinging him and the baby more than 50 feet onto the ground.
Hopping forward • She's not sure if she can have another baby.
Physically, it was hard enough getting pregnant the first time. Emotionally, she isn't sure she could handle it.
"I had a perfect baby," said Sequoia Moore, who divorced her husband after RJ died. "I don't think I could do that again. I don't know that I could take the risk that I'll have another one and they'll live to 20 or 30 and then die, I'd have to go through that heartache all over again."
So, she busies herself with doting on the baby she had, buying decorations for his grave and accessories for her car and hanging more pictures on the walls of her home.
"He may have been here for only a short time, but this little man made such a big impact on my life," Sequoia Moore said. "I keep him alive for me by watching videos and looking at photos and telling him that mommy's still here, mommy loves you."