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Destiny remembered: Hundreds gather at funeral for girl who touched many

Destiny loved to express herself.

"She was a very brilliant little girl," said her mother, Rachael Norton. "She had high dreams in life. She wanted to become a veterinarian. She loved everything. She loved animals. She loved nature. She loved people in general."

Family and friends who gathered for the murdered 5-year-old's funeral on Saturday told of a little girl who would put on her "princess dress" and dance to music.

She hugged people tightly. When Destiny smiled, she beamed, revealing a row of silver-capped teeth.

"How do you describe such a wonderful gift to this world?" said family friend Jenniece Whitaker, wiping tears from her face. "She had the most amazing smile."

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Hundreds came to the Norton family's LDS Church meetinghouse at 700 South and 500 East on Saturday to pay their respects to the little girl who prompted a massive eight-day community search — only to be found murdered two doors away from her home.

"We all loved Destiny very, very much," said family friend John Flores.

At the funeral, members of the little girl's LDS Primary class sang "Holding Hands Around the World," a song Destiny had sung in church just a week before she vanished.

Many couldn't bring themselves to sit through the entire service. Among them was Destiny's uncle, Peter Brooks.

"It was the most beautiful service I have ever seen in my life, but I can't sit in there," he told the Deseret Morning News. "It's too much to take."

After the funeral, family and friends had a tree planted in the midst of five grown maple trees outside the church, as a symbolic gesture.

"She is now in the hollow of the Lord's hand," said Bishop Bill Silver, the family's LDS ward bishop and a Salt Lake police detective

Destiny's father, Ricky Norton, was the first to take a shovel and place a mound of dirt at the base of the tree. He was followed by dozens of family and friends who each picked up the shovel and spread some dirt.

Across the street from the church is the home the Nortons lived in when Destiny vanished. Two doors away is the apartment of accused killer Craig Roger Gregerson, where her body was found.

Outside the Norton home, a shrine to Destiny was filled with burning candles, flowers, balloons and stuffed animals.

Speaking to Ricky and Rachael Norton during the funeral service, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said the community had grown to love Destiny.

"The community came to feel in many ways like Destiny was theirs as well," Anderson said.

Friends said Destiny's death had reunited Ricky Norton with a mother and sister he hadn't seen since he was 14.

Also among those in attendance at the funeral were police detectives and FBI agents who worked on the case and volunteer searchers who looked for Destiny.

"Our hearts and love go out to this family," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank told the Deseret Morning News as he left the funeral. "We really became part of their family as a police department."

Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her home in 2002 and found nine months later, was in attendance with her family. Members of the Smart family helped in the search for Destiny.

Destiny's parents were surrounded by family, both blood relatives and adopted "street family." A group of people who grew up on the streets like the Nortons, they put in hundreds of hours searching for the little girl.

Their tattoos, piercings and unusual clothing may have startled some, but Silver said those people gave everything to find Destiny.

"If there is any question as to whether or not this community can overcome differences," he said, "I think this case is proof they can."

Family friends said Ricky Norton could not bring himself to watch his daughter's tiny silvery-pink casket being brought to the cemetery. He stayed in the back with a group of his family and friends.

"It was his baby," family friend Jeannie Hill said. "He is just so heartbroken."

Rachael Norton sat next to the casket, surrounded by family and friends. She sobbed as the pallbearers brought the casket in front of her, a bouquet of pink roses with Destiny's picture clipped to it.

About a dozen members of the group Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) walked up to the casket and placed a denim vest on it. Then, one by one, pink roses and carnations were placed on it.

People hugged, cried and tried to console each other as they tried to explain the tragedy that had taken place. Children who played with Destiny cried when they were told that their friend was dead and would not be coming back.

Destiny's uncle Jody Emery was a pallbearer, carrying her pink casket out of the church into the hearse and then to its grave site in Holladay. He wore a pink carnation pinned to his lapel and a black armband with "Destiny" written on it in pink.

"Why's there gotta be such monsters in the world?" he asked. "I'm glad she's in a better place."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com