COLORADO SPRINGS — Genuine, kind, funny and always smiling were just a few words those close to 11-year-old Gannon Stauch used to describe him during his memorial Friday morning.
Gannon was reported missing in January by Letecia Stauch, his stepmother, who said he had gone to a friend's house and did not return home. Weeks later, a body found in Florida was identified as the boy.
Letecia Stauch was arrested on March 2 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as a result of thousands of hours spent in the investigation and searching for Gannon.
Gannon's father, grandmother, 5th-grade teacher, and a leader of the youth ministry of Restoration Church spoke at his memorial to"remember the sweet, caring, strong boy that stole the heart of a community."
"Gannon leaves a legacy of unity and togetherness," Al Stauch said of his son. He began his speech by reciting a poem about being the "captain of his own soul" in light of the circumstances he has had to face.
Gannon was born prematurely at 1 lb 6 ounces. Al Stauch said Gannon was taught from the beginning to be a fighter. He then read letters he wrote to Laina, Gannon's sister, for her now - as well as at 18, 28, and 38 to describe the hopes he has for her at each of those life stages.
He recalled the days he spent crying over the pain of Gannon's disappearance and death. "None of this takes away my true heart" that he wished Gannon was still here.
Paul Aragon, the lead pastor at Restoration Church, began the service by recalling the community efforts in January when Gannon was reported missing.
Aragon said he recognized some of the people in the church building who were out assisting search parties or organizing prayer vigils. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," he said.
Gannon's grandmother, Debra, cried as she recounted watching Gannon face adversities, bringing to light that he grew to be the boy who loved to tell jokes and more.
"He came into this world unexpectedly and left unexpectedly," she said. She said he enjoyed life in the moment and that above all, he understood how to love. "His love was visible, palpable, and dynamic."
Chris Lancaster, who is involved in the church's children's ministry, said he met Gannon for the first time at a Sunday church service and described him as being a fun person to be around.
"He had an amazing smile, he was always smiling. His smile would light up a room," Lancaster said.
He described a time Gannon protected his sister Laina after a group of boys took a toy away from her. "It didn't matter who or how many, Gannon was going to protect his sister," he said.
Gannon's fifth-grade teacher at Grand Mountain School was one of the first speakers in the service and she described Gannon as being very kind.
"Gannon was nice, funny, caring and a really good friend," his fifth-grade teacher remembered.
A slideshow of photos put together by Gannon's father played following all the speeches during the memorial.
The church said it made the decision to only hold the service online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Near the end of March, Gannon's parents said they were holding off on plans for future memorial services until travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic lifted.