In a private time of grief the family of Kelvin, Julie and Lucas Hodges made their memorial open to their community, who has embraced their family tragedy as a collective loss.
"I never expected such a beautiful display of... caring, it has helped me continue," said the children's mother, Mai Sheng Vang. "You have helped me put my children to rest.”
Speaking publicly for the first time since the murder of her children, some of Vang’s first words were for the West Sacramento community, who raised nearly $40,000 for the memorial.
“To the first responders who tried everything to help my children, I know you share my nightmare of that night and I pray for you and I think of you,” Vang said.
Robert Hodges and Vang's three children, 11-year-old Kelvin, 9-year-old Julie and 7-month-old Lucas, were found dead by West Sacramento officers in the family's apartment Sept. 13.
The neighbor who called 911 initially believed the children had been suffocated. Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said their father allegedly used a belt to kill Julie and Kelvin.
Even on such a somber occasion as Saturday's memorial, the sweet innocent faces of her children lit up the halls of the funeral home as people shared cherished memories of the three young siblings.
"He was such an amazing and happy and bubbly kiddo," said Marty Elliot from Southport Elementary School while speaking about 11-year-old Kelvin.
"I remember Julie running around, purposefully getting hit. She was kicking the ball, she was jumping in front of it," said Matt Ainsworth, principal of Southport Elementary School. "And I pulled her aside and I said, 'Julie the point of this game is to dodge the ball.' She said, 'I don't want anybody on my team to get out.'"
"Lucas, my happy baby, whose giggles I can still hear and whose hand I can still feel on my face," Vang said.
Her pain echoed on the faces of hundreds of family, friends and even total strangers, who all turned out to lay the children to rest. Representatives of a community defining itself not by the tragedy they suffered, but by the way they’re coming through it together.
Robert Hodges pleaded not guilty to three charges of premeditated first-degree murder and one charge of felony attempted murder against his wife. He could face the death penalty if convicted.