Seven hearses waited outside a chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Friday in the small community of La Verkin, Washington County, a gateway town to Zion National Park.
The doors opened, and pallbearers wheeled a small, white casket no larger than five feet in length carrying 4-year-old Gavin Haight.
His siblings, 7-year-old twins Sienna and Ammon, 12-year-old Brilee, and 17-year-old Macie were brought out behind him one by one, each casket slightly bigger than the last.
Finally, with help from officers with the Enoch Police Department, 40-year-old Tausha Haight and her 78-year-old mother Gail Earl were each loaded into a hearse, before being laid to rest in a quaint cemetery beneath the red mesas and snow capped mountains of southern Utah.
Nearly 850 people showed up to the Earl family funeral, a little more than a week after police say 42-year old Michael Haight shot and killed his five children, mother-in-law and wife of 20 years. The killings happened just two weeks after Tausha Haight filed for divorce.
Michael Haight then turned the gun on himself, according to police, who discovered the family later that afternoon in their house on Albert Drive in Enoch, a small Iron County suburb about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Michael Haight’s name was not mentioned during the service Friday, and his obituary says his funeral will be private.
Instead, the six Earl siblings focused on remembering their “incredible” sister, their “loving and dedicated” mother, and five nieces and nephews — Macie, who was set to graduate high school and had plans to attend nearby Southern Utah University; Brilee, an avid reader and talented pianist and cellist; Ammon, who juggled his love for trains and Legos; Sienna, whose bright blue eyes “pierced your soul,” her aunt said; and little Gavin, a mischievous child who gave the best hugs, his family agreed.
Kandace Earl Booth, who gave a eulogy for Gail, Tausha and the children, remembered her mother as someone who was utterly devoted to her family and “never missed a day of scripture study and family prayer.”
“(She) always timed her bread making process to ensure we had fresh, hot bread when we came home from school,” she said.
Tausha, Kandace said, was like a sparkling bag of confetti “who constantly sacrificed everything for her children. … She taught them love, kindness, service, dedication and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Tausha served as the Young Women’s president in her Latter-day Saint ward, and “cherished those women,” Kandace said. “She was always thinking of and serving others around her.”
Despite the family’s immense loss, they said they found comfort in “the knowledge of eternal families,” Kandace said.
“I know that my mom is up there. I know that she is up there and the heavens are just joyful that she is there,” said Darren Earl. “They’re all up there having fun without me.”
Gail lived in La Verkin, though she had been spending time with Tausha in Enoch amid the couple’s divorce. Tausha also spent the first couple years of her life in La Verkin, a family member said.
The sprawling meetinghouse was filled with chairs, extending back into the gymnasium and onto a stage. Three overflow rooms were set up, and the funeral was also streamed over Zoom. Members of the Enoch Police Department, families, local politicians and students from Iron County were among the hundreds in attendance. There were men in suits, and men in jeans, small children making paper airplanes with the program, and many, many teary eyes.
Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke at the end of the service, telling the crowd: “I’ve been praying since receiving this assignment that the spirit of the Lord would be here for these services.”
“My heart goes out to you people in this community whose hearts have also been broken and worlds rocked by the possibility of this kind of trauma,” he said.
Speaking to reporters and surrounded by his siblings, Brett J. Earl thanked the Haight family after the service.
“There’s a story of two families, hurt and broken by an unthinkable tragedy,” he said. “The chaos within each of us wants to see a struggle and contention between rival families. With grateful hearts, we are delighted to confirm that is not the case here. But there is a story — a story of these families being able to find peace and comfort and solace through the beauty of the knowledge of God’s plan of salvation.”
After the funeral, close family and friends followed the hearses as they drove to the small cemetery a few blocks from the church. There, far from the cameras and the crowds, the Earl family was laid to rest. In the hours that followed, a ground crew worked, and beeping from an excavator occasionally echoed through the small town’s streets as it piled dirt on the seven new graves in La Verkin.
Friday evening, a few hours after the funeral, a crowd of a little over 150 people gathered in Enoch, about 45 minutes north of La Verkin.
There, a community that seemed both lost and inseparable came together, huddling around heat lamps and cradling hot chocolate as the temperatures neared freezing.
“In our community, we are strong and we are here for each other and we have so much love and support to give,” said Kait Sorensen, the executive director of Canyon Creek Services, a nonprofit that provides help and shelter to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
With the evening light fading and pink ribbons of cloud hovering above the mountains to the West, Enoch residents prayed, cried and laughed as people took to the microphone to share stories and song.
“This is a little bit personal for me ... we’ve had a personal tragedy of our own in the previous few months,” said Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, whose cousin was murdered in an episode of domestic violence in August. “So we understand the depth of the pain. We maybe don’t understand the breadth of it and I don’t know if anyone can possibly understand it. But we do understand that we need to come together to heal and we need to continue to love each other.”
After she spoke, Henderson told the Deseret News that coming to the vigil Friday night was part of her own “healing process.”
“I just wanted to be here in solidarity with those that are in pain ... to help lift and support others in a way to get through our own grief and difficulty,” she said with her aunt standing nearby, still grieving the loss of her own daughter just months ago.
The Enoch neighbors wrote notes on paper bags, placing artificial candles in them that cast a dim, orange glow through the crowd. Grief counselors with the Red Cross were nearby, and Jen Campbell, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, stressed that the wounds in the community will take time to heal.
“It’s so hard to see when we have something like this happen, all of those questions — what could we have done, what more could we do, what are we doing? And I just want you to know that that overwhelming feeling, that grief, I hope that that doesn’t stop the great work that is happening here in this community,” she said.
Closing out the night, Sorensen echoed a common theme that rang loud in southwestern Utah Friday.
“When you leave here please make sure that you tell somebody close to you how much you love them, how much you appreciate them, and how much you are there for them.”