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With solemn service, Alta Vista lays Baby Sterling to rest

  • Residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Coleman McAllister speaks to the gathered as residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Tony Fredrich speaks to the gathered as residents of Alta Vista gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning for a memorial service for Sterling Koehn, a 4-month-old boy who died Aug. 30, 2017. (Press photo James Grob.)

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

Coleman McAllister said that all life has meaning, including the short and tragic life of Baby Sterling.

“Every life is precious,” he said. “You’re all here out of mercy to honor his life. It was a short life, it was a tragic life, but it had meaning.”

McAllister, now a district court judge, served the state of Iowa as a prosecutor in the case of Sterling Koehn, seeking justice for the baby’s death. He eulogized Sterling during a service, as residents of Alta Vista, law enforcement personnel, first responders and the prosecutors who worked on the case gathered at the Alta Vista Municipal Hall Saturday morning.

“With heavy hearts, we come together to honor a life that ended tragically,” said Drew Johnson, who presided over the service.

The service for the 4-month-old boy provided those touched by Sterling’s life and death a chance to come together and share. Minister Gordon Holdeman delivered the prayer at the service, and the Mennonite Choir sang “This Little Light of Mine.”

On a large photo of Sterling at the front of Memorial Hall, words from Matthew, Chapter 19, verse 14, were written:

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”

Sterling’s body was discovered in an Alta Vista apartment on Aug. 30, 2017. The state medical examiner determined he had died of malnutrition, dehydration and an infection. Sterling’s parents, Zachary Koehn and Cheyanne Harris, were each separately convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

“We wanted, more than anything, to do something for Sterling. He’s never had a service or anything,” said Chickasaw County Chief Deputy Reed Palo, who was the lead investigator in the case. Palo carried the urn holding Sterling’s remains through the town and to the internment at Union Cemetery, where the ashes were laid to rest.

Hugeback-Johnson Funeral Home donated the arrangements and the monument, and Gayla Hugeback said she hoped it would provide another step in the healing process for Alta Vista residents and those who worked the case.

“Sterling impacted everyone who came in contact with him. I will never forget Sterling,” McAllister said to those gathered Saturday. “There’s nothing I could do in my life that could make me forget him. I choose to remember him as he is in the photograph — smiling, big blue eyes — a precious gift from God.”

McAllister said that Sterling’s life had meaning to the sheriff and the deputies who investigated this case, as well as the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation  and to the first responders.

“It is a testament to them, that they showed up that day when the 911 call came in,” he said.

McAllister said that one first responder, Tony Fredrich, “dropped everything” and went to the scene to see if she could save a life. Fredrich also eulogized Sterling on Saturday.

“I want to thank all of you who showed up today, because by doing so, you showed you care,” she said. “You showed that Sterling’s life did matter, that there is good in this world, and there is hope.”

She said that the aftermath of the tragedy brought many issues to light.

“Sterling’s life mattered.” Fredrich told the gathered. “Sterling’s life brought public awareness to safe havens, child endangerment, child abuse and neglect. … He touched my heart.”

After the service, most of the gathered walked through the town of Alta Vista, from the municipal hall to the cemetery, while the choir sang hymns. Several who were out in the community stood in solemn silence as the procession passed.

“As a Christian, I know Sterling’s death would grieve God’s heart,” Fredrich said. “He hurts over the brokenness of our world. He hurts over the horrifying death that Sterling endured.”

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