Updated June 14, 2021 - 1:53 pm
Looking down, Nicholas Husted clutched his son’s favorite Mickey Mouse blanket that said “smiles.” It had been in his car for three weeks, along with his little boy’s Capri Suns.
“We’re rolling together still,” he said, tugging on a T-shirt with Liam Husted’s photo on it. Using a stick, the father popped a red balloon in Liam’s memory.
Liam, 7, loved parks, and about a dozen Las Vegas locals and their kids gathered with Liam’s father at Sunset Park on Sunday for a vigil.
Liam’s body was discovered May 28 near the Mountain Springs Trailhead, off state Route 160 between Las Vegas and Pahrump. Initially referred to as John “Little Zion” Doe, Liam was unidentified for more than a week as investigators fielded hundreds of tips.
Four days earlier, Liam’s father had come home May 24 to find Liam and his mother and their belongings gone, police said. Liam’s mother, Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, had left Husted a voicemail saying “I’m sorry. I had to do this.”
The day before hikers found Liam’s body, he and his mother were staying at a Las Vegas hotel, police said. Rodriguez, 35, was arrested Tuesday in Denver on suspicion of murder — one day after police announced Liam’s identity and declared her a wanted suspect.
“I don’t think she was a bad mom,” Husted said at the vigil Sunday. “She had a time of weakness, and she is going to pay for it.”
Las Vegas residents organized the gathering Sunday through Facebook and invited Husted, who lives in San Jose, California.
“This young boy didn’t live here, but he is one of us. He could be your child,” said Dina Lynn, one of the organizers, as a few children around her blew bubbles. “Liam Husted. We won’t forget your name.”
The group was initially going to release bunches of balloons but were advised that they could not because of the park’s proximity to the airport.
“I just had to come and show my appreciation for everything you guys did in this community to take him under your wing like he was your own,” Husted said. “The hardest part was knowing that he was left behind, but he was never by himself.”
Husted thanked the Las Vegas community and police for treating Liam “like the prince he is.”
“He was one in a trillion,” he said. “I’m still in shock. I still don’t want to believe it.”
‘One thing I have to do’
Liam was an only child. He was on the autism spectrum, and brilliant, his father said. He learned to swim at age 2. And he always kept his father on his toes: He figured out how to sneak snacks without being heard.
He loved to cook and bake and crack eggs. He helped chop veggies and mix sauces. And when his dad was hopeless on the barbecue, he’d bring him a fire extinguisher and water.
Husted said he last saw his son the Sunday before he disappeared. They had just had a barbecue.
“He was laughing at the big flame, and he was loving it,” he said. “He was twice the personality of me. I probably didn’t deserve him for those seven years.”
Husted said his son’s body arrived in San Jose over the weekend, but on Monday, he said he had learned that Liam remained in Las Vegas. He plans to hold a memorial for Liam once he is home. A GoFundMe he set up for his son last week had raised more than $37,000 as of Monday afternoon.
Before Husted leaves Las Vegas, he said he plans to visit the site where his son’s body was found.
“That’s one thing I have to do,” he said.