Logan • As her uncle had his first court hearing since being charged in her death, the family of 5-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley was not at the courtroom Monday afternoon.
Lizzy’s family is focused, Cache County Attorney James Swink said, on laying their little girl to rest.
They were focused on the viewing Monday evening, then a funeral Tuesday.
They are mourning. And Swink said their community — Logan residents, law enforcement, the hundreds who searched for the missing girl for days — mourns along with them.
"It's about the family," Swink said after 21-year-old Alex Whipple's court hearing. "In my office, it's always been about the family and what can we do to help them."
Lizzy had been missing for five days when prosecutors charged Whipple last Wednesday with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, obstructing justice and abuse or desecration of a human body in the disappearance of his niece.
After the charges were filed, Swink’s prosecutors made a deal with Whipple: Tell them where Lizzy’s body was and they would agree to not seek the death penalty against him. Whipple agreed, and disclosed where he had hidden her body, buried under leaves and debris in a wooded area about a quarter-mile from her home.
Finding Lizzy, Swink said, was important to give her family members the closure they needed to “lay her to rest in a proper way.”
"As mothers know even better than fathers, not to have the body of your child, you just can't cope with that," Swink said. "You can't get your head around that."
But while they agreed to not seek Whipple’s execution, Swink promised Monday that he will do everything he can to make sure the man will never get released from prison.
"We need to protect the family and our community from that individual," he said. "And that's what we will do."
Whipple’s court hearing Monday was brief. He was silent, his face solemn as he listened to the judge read the charges against him. He’ll be back in court later this month for a scheduling hearing.
A public viewing for Lizzy was scheduled for Monday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Nyman Funeral Home in Providence, according to the girl’s obituary. A second viewing is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, followed by a 1:30 p.m. funeral service. Lizzy’s family encouraged anyone who attends the funeral service to bring a picked flower, as “Lizzy loved to pick flowers.”
Lizzy was last seen about 2 a.m. May 25 at her home, where Whipple had stayed the night. When both he and Lizzy were not there later that morning, he became a suspect in her disappearance.
Charging documents allege that Lizzy’s blood was found on Whipple’s wristwatch and a hooded sweatshirt that he was wearing when he was arrested that day. On the grounds of a nearby charter school, investigators found a broken knife that had Lizzy’s blood on it and matched the brand of a knife that was missing from her family’s kitchen, according to charges.
Officers also found a piece of PVC pipe that carried a partial palm print in a red substance; the palm print matched Whipple’s hand, according to charges. A block from the school, a homeowner found a beer can that had Whipple’s DNA on it, police wrote.
About 50 yards from the parking lot, investigators also found a teal blue skirt — clothing that Lizzy was last seen wearing — “hastily buried” under some dirt and bark. The skirt also had blood on it, according to charges.
Charging documents say that Lizzy’s mother, her mother’s live-in boyfriend and Whipple had stayed up late the night before the disappearance drinking beer and rum and playing video games. The couple went to bed, and Whipple stayed the night on the couch.
The girl’s mother told police she last saw her daughter in her bed around midnight. When the couple woke up at around 9:30 a.m. the next morning, Lizzy and Whipple were gone — and the front door was wide open.
Police found Whipple walking alone in a rural area near Hyrum on May 26 around 3 p.m. and discovered a metal baseball bat tucked in his back pocket and hidden in his jacket along his back, according to a probable cause statement filed with the jail. They also allegedly found a pipe and what they suspected was marijuana, and an unopened can of beer. Whipple’s hands were “filthy” and had several cuts, according to the charges.
As Whipple waited in the interview room, he began to lick his hands and try to wipe them clean, investigators wrote.
During the interview, Whipple “would allude to how evil the world we live in is,” and said he had struggles as a child and that his family has mistreated him throughout his life, police wrote. He said alcohol makes him “black out” and that sometimes he does “criminal things” while he’s blacked out, police wrote.
A judge has ordered Whipple be kept in the Cache County jail without bail.
Whipple’s defense attorney, Shannon Demler, said last week that his client knows he’s “done a terrible thing.”
“He’s very emotional about it, and feels he’s done something terrible,” Demler said. “Based on that, he felt it was appropriate to tell the authorities where the body was located so at least the family could have some closure as to that part of the case, knowing where the body was.”