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West Yellowstone reels after death of 12-year-old boy; candlelight memorial planned

Posted at 5:24 PM, Feb 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-16 19:26:58-05

WEST YELLOWSTONE — It is a disturbing case that has rocked the small community of West Yellowstone.

The latest development was the arrest of 18-year-old Gage Roush, another West Yellowstone man, in connection to the murder of James Alexander Hurley on Friday.

Investigators say he was involved in at least one video produced by Patricia Batts and James Sasser, Jr., abusing young 12-year-old James Alexander Hurley.

Roush’s family said this comes as a shock to them.

"Once I found out, I'm like 'Oh my God,'” said Brenda Reed, Roush’s grandmother. “It's a punch in my stomach, you know?"

18-year-old Gage Roush stood quietly in Gallatin County Justice Court on Friday, Feb. 14, charged with assaulting a minor.

In this case, 12-year-old James Hurley, who, according to court documents, was found beaten and eventually killed in his grandparents’ home.

"I knew nothing until yesterday when he got locked up,” Reed said.

Sitting in court was Roush’s grandmother and his girlfriend, Brooklyn.

"He's like a gentle giant,” Reed said. “It just boggles my mind. I was blind-sided."

Court documents point to Hurley’s grandparents, Patricia Batts and James Sasser Jr., revealing a disturbing timeline, with Hurley’s 14-year-old uncle, James Sasser III, joining in.

Investigators say video recordings show Hurley’s family beating him with makeshift objects, locking food away from him, and strangling him.

Now, prosecutors say there are other videos, including one of Roush hitting the boy.

According to court documents, Gallatin County detectives found Roush after he posted on the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, defending Batts and Sasser.

Upon investigation, deputies say Roush’s clothes matched those of a fourth man in the videos, seen hitting Hurley with his hands and a wooden paddle.

"It is unacceptable to strike or otherwise brutalize a child,” prosecutors said in Justice Court. “There's two instances that, at least alleged, in here.”

They are revelations that Brenda said she never saw coming.

"He's the reason I get up in the morning,” Reed said. “He's the reason for me living."

"I am flabbergasted,” said Melissa Finney, who’s known the family since 2008. “I can't even begin to explain to you how disgusting and sick I am to my stomach about the whole situation."

Finney lives a block away from the Batts’ home.

"I just never saw it coming,” Finney said. “I have known this family, like I've said, for 12 years. Our kids have hung out together and I've never ever thought this...I would be standing here today in this position saying 'Oh my God.'"

Finney said she’s known Roush since he was four years old and James Sasser III spent time with her own son.

"The abuse in the home like that and nobody knowing about it, it's frustrating because when you are with them and you are around them and you see one side of them and then you come back and then you hear this, you're like okay, they are living double lives,” Finney said.

As Roush’s case moves next to the district court, Brenda and Brooklyn said they will stand together but nothing will be the same.

"Being so cruel and so cold-hearted to especially your own grandson,” Finney said.

"I hope this is a turning point and [Roush] grows up,” Reed said.

Roush could be looking at 40 years in prison if convicted and his bail has been set at $50,000.

The West Yellowstone community is planning a candle-lit service for James Hurley for 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23 at West Yellowstone City Park.

Organizers ask people to wear blue ribbons and all donations will be used for Mental Health services in the area.