ALTA VISTA — Family, friends and community members gathered at Alta Vista Municipal Hall on Saturday to memorialize the short life of Sterling Koehn.
Photos and flowers decorated the front and back of the hall as visitors filed in to honor the memory of the 4-month-old boy.
Sterling was found dead in a Hilltop Avenue apartment Aug. 30, 2017, after his father, Zachary Koehn, placed a 911 call saying the child had died. Zachary Koehn and the child’s mother, Cheyanne Harris, are both serving life prison sentences for the baby’s death.
Prosecutor Coleman McAllister, an assistant Iowa attorney general, told jurors Sterling had been in the same diaper for nine to 14 days when medics were called to the apartment. He said Sterling died of malnutrition, dehydration and the infection.
At the infant’s memorial service, around 60 people fell silent as music played and a choir filed in at 10 a.m., followed by urn bearer Reed Palo, a Chickasaw County deputy sheriff.
The ceremony’s officiant, Drew Johnson, welcomed McAllister to the front. Amidst long pauses, McAllister addressed the crowd, sharing how Sterling’s death impacted him, the community, investigators and first responders.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a testament to you, to this community — Sterling’s community — that you’re all here today,” McAllister said. “It was a short life, it was a tragic life, but it had meaning.”
McAllister recognized the impact Sterling’s life had on those who knew him.
The choir followed McAllister’s speech with an a capella rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”
First responder Tony Fredrich approached the podium following the song and thanked the attorneys for their dedication to the case.
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“We live in a broken world,” Fredrich said. “I’ve experienced that in the aftermath of Sterling’s death.”
Fredrich admitted feeling hopelessness in the wake of the tragedy, but attributed handling Sterling’s death to her “faith in Jesus Christ.” She recalled driving home after the first trial, in search of someone to talk with when she found assurance in her faith once again.
“Sterling’s life mattered,” Fredrich said. “... I believe God is in the midst of this.”
The Rev. Gordon Holdeman followed with a short speech and prayer.
“I didn’t know this was happening when it happened,” Holdeman said of the events that transpired unnoticed near his home.
“Sterling’s joy has come, his weeping has passed,” Holdeman said after reading a Bible verse.
The choir raised their voices once more and filed outside onto the street. The sun shone as the procession walked in silence down South White Avenue to Union Cemetery where Palo placed the urn next to Sterling’s headstone.
A song played while the crowd circled around his headstone. Hands were held, tears were wiped away and community members leaned on each other for support.
Fredrich said the memorial was “somewhat of closure” for the family, and despite the circumstance, recognized “Sterling’s life brought public awareness” to child endangerment, abuse and neglect laws, as well as the Safe Haven law, which allows parents to leave an infant up to 30 days old at a hospital or health care facility without fear of prosecution for abandonment, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services.
“Sterling will never be forgotten,” Fredrich said.