TOOELE — Balloons were released into the overcast winter sky over Raechale Elton's casket Tuesday, paying tribute to the smiling 22-year-old who offered a troubled teen a ride — and paid for it with her life.
"She never judged a person and that's obvious," said Elton's sister, Melissa Cox.
At Elton's graveside service, family members stood in the snow and sang "You Are My Sunshine" in front of her flower-laden casket before releasing the balloons.
Earlier in the afternoon, hundreds of people gathered at a stake center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tooele for Elton's funeral. Family members shared memories of a smiling, caring young woman who would write little notes and cards expressing her love for them.
"Raechie was a best friend to many and loved everyone she met. Her footprints in our hearts are too large to fill," Cox said. "She had a zest for her life, which was filled with good deeds."
Elton may have been doing a good deed when she died last week. She worked at a Clearfield group home run by Youth Health Associates and offered 17-year-old Robert Cameron Houston a ride to an independent living home where he was staying, YHA officials said.
Davis County prosecutors said Houston raped and stabbed Elton to death, then took her car and crashed it into a nearby house in an apparent suicide attempt. Clearfield police said Houston confessed, telling investigators that "he had thought for some time the victim was cute and he was infatuated with her."
At her funeral, family and friends struggled to make sense of the tragedy.
"We struggle bitterly because of the cruel circumstances of her departure from us," said Curtis Elton, Raechale's uncle. "We struggle to make sense of what happened."
The Weber State University senior was to have graduated in December with a degree in criminal justice, her family said. She had chosen youth counseling as a career.
"She chose this profession because she wanted to help troubled individuals," Cox said, remembering how her mother once asked Raechale how she could work with troubled teens.
"It's gotta be a little scary," Cox recalled. "She said, 'Somebody's gotta love those kids.' "
Melissa Cox suggested that her sister may have subconsciously known her time was short. In several cards Elton wrote, she urged her family to make the best of their times together.
"I know she's sitting here beside us, watching all of us," Cox said. "She's touched so many lives."
Elton enjoyed the outdoors and had a special bond with her father over Corvettes, Cox said during her eulogy. In tribute, her sister said, Elton was buried with a Corvette key chain in her pocket "so she can drive that cool Corvette in heaven."
Family friend Kathy Toensing said she will remember Elton for her bright smile.
"She brought a lot of life to everybody," she said.
In a statement from Raechale's mother, Teresa, Curtis Elton told mourners at the funeral she wanted them to "love your children dearly. Tell them you love them every day."