Braden and Charlie Powell were remembered in a funeral service attended by more than 1,000 people in Tacoma Saturday.

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Two small boys. One small casket.

Mourners from across Washington and Utah gathered at a Tacoma church Saturday to remember Braden, 5, and Charlie Powell, 7.

Early in the morning, people began arriving at Life Center Church’s sprawling brown-brick campus. There were police officers, bikers in leather, teachers, neighbors and community members touched by the tragedy of the boys’ death.

Many waited a long time in line beneath umbrellas before the church doors opened and two white hearses arrived carrying the boys’ family members and a single coffin with the bodies of the two brothers.

Across the street from the church, several people held a bouquet of red balloons and signs that read, “Love … Love,” as an offering of support and comfort. Since the boys’ deaths last Sunday there was also a candlelight vigil in Tacoma to mourn what has become not just a private — but a public — loss.

Saturday morning, Dean Curry, senior pastor of the church, recognized that communitywide grief.

“This moment is about two beautiful boys,” Curry said. The church offered to host the service because the sanctuary was large enough to accommodate the crowd.

“How we got here is a story well-known,” he said. But the moment was about the children, he said.

A photo tribute showed the boys dressed in Halloween costumes and being cuddled in the arms of their mother, Susan Cox Powell, as well as with their maternal grandparents.

Braden and Charlie Powell died last Sunday after their father, Josh Powell, pulled them into his Graham-area house during a supervised visit, locked out the supervising social worker, apparently struck the boys with a hatchet and set the house on fire.

Charlie’s kindergarten teacher, Tammy Ougheon, from Utah, said Charlie had a “keen intellect and an appreciation for nature I’d never seen before,” often bringing worms and caterpillars into class. He loved to write and envisioned a book, even down to the marketing plan, she said.

She read a statement from John Huson, Charlie’s first-grade teacher at Carson Elementary in Puyallup, who recalled how the boy loved collecting sticks and rocks. Charlie was so interested in science he could talk a long time on the subject and other students would listen. Huson, in his statement, said that once after he praised Charlie for his interest, a little girl piped up, “Mr. Huson, Charlie is a scientist.”

A week before Charlie died, he told his teacher he was getting new glasses. Charlie joked that it meant Huson would have a new boy in the class.

YMCA instructor Kristie King said Braden could put together complex puzzles, build things with Tinker Toys and loved anything in the color orange. He was an affectionate child who loved to snuggle with his grandparents or hold his teacher’s hand, King said.

“It was obvious he loved his grandparents,” King said. He’d wait by the window with “that beautiful smile” and leap into their arms when they came to pick him up, she said.

King said Braden grew up eating vegetables from his mother’s garden, enjoying her homemade pies and bread, taking outings to the zoo and going to summer camp.

The boys’ grandfather, Chuck Cox, told the crowd of more than 1,000 that “throughout this trial we felt the support of so many people around the world. We want to express our sincere gratitude. It helps us know there are good people in the world — good people who fight against evil.”

He said, “Everyone was doing everything they possibly could to keep them safe; we thank you very much. We know they’re with their mother.”

Some of the people at the service wore blue and purple ribbons in honor of the boys’ mother, Susan Cox-Powell, who has been missing for more than two years and is believed to be dead. Throughout the service, Josh Powell was not mentioned.

He had been under police scrutiny since December 2009, when he told investigators his wife, a stockbroker, disappeared from their West Valley, Utah, home while he had taken the boys camping at midnight in freezing temperatures.

Powell insisted he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance, saying he believed she had run off with another man. He and the boys later moved to Puyallup, where his father and his wife’s parents live.

Powell had been living with his father, Steven Powell, until last year. During a search of the home in August, police found child pornography and arrested Steven Powell on voyeurism and child-pornography charges. He remains in Pierce County Jail.

A Pierce County judge granted temporary custody of the boys to their maternal grandparents but allowed Josh Powell supervised visitation.

On Feb. 1, a judge denied Josh Powell’s request for custody and ordered him to undergo a psychosexual evaluation.

The investigation into Susan Powell’s disappearance continues. On Friday, Pierce County sheriff’s deputies disclosed in court documents that a search turned up a bloodstained comforter in a Sumner storage locker Josh Powell had rented.

Police say they believe that when Powell set fire to the house — killing himself and his sons — it was an admission that he had also killed his wife.

From the start, the case has drawn national attention, and the funeral was just as much a public spectacle. Crews from all the major television networks arrived early and jockeyed for position. Satellite towers beamed signals from coast to coast. A number of motorcycle-club members in black leather and chains lined the parking lot in case there was an appearance by the Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-gay crusaders who had planned to come from Kansas to picket at the funeral. Westboro members did not show up.

At the conclusion of the funeral, Curry said the Cox and Powell families had been drawn together by the tragedy. The families filed out behind the single casket decked with flowers in yellow, white and Braden’s favorite — orange.

A private interment at Woodbine Cemetery in Puyallup is planned Monday.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @BartleyNews.