Hannah Wagstaff

On a quiet hill dotted with sagebrush, 14-year-old Hannah Wagstaff's body rests in a simple spruce box fastened together with wooden pegs, rather than nails.

Next to her in the old family pioneer cemetery west of the tiny southern Utah town of Tropic is her great-great-grandmother and a great-great-uncle.

"She's in a simple, but beautiful, wooden box on a hill that has a beautiful view, with ancestors that have been buried there since the late 1800s," said Sarah Sorensen, Hannah's aunt. "It made a very close connection. (Her parents) are strengthened; it made that connection very real."

Hannah was traveling with a group re-enacting a pioneer trek from Fairview to Castle Valley on Tuesday morning in Sanpete County when a truck hit the handcart she was pushing on state Route 31. The driver told police he failed to see the group, due to the blinding sun coming up over the mountains.

Hannah was killed, as was Edwin Montell Seely, of Castle Dale, who had stepped out into the other lane to try to warn the driver to slow down.

Hannah's parents, artists Clay and Rebecca Wagstaff, were not on the trek, but they were in the area and arrived soon after emergency crews did, Sorensen told the Deseret News.

The family values its pioneer heritage and chose to have a simple funeral Wednesday morning. They left Fairview soon after the accident to travel home.

Once there, the 450 people of Tropic, near Bryce Canyon National Park, rallied around the grieving family.

"The outpouring of love has been so incredible," said Sorensen, who lives near her sister, Rebecca Wagstaff. "There's not enough for everybody who is willing to do stuff. There's not enough to do; there's so much help and support."

A memorial service for Hannah will be held today at 2 p.m., at the Tropic Ward Chapel.

Sorensen described Hannah as a quick learner, who excelled in her home-schooling and was making plans to attend Southern Virginia University.

"This was really the best option for them for how quickly she learned," Sorensen said. "She was a smart girl, she enjoyed learning."

Ultimately, Hannah wanted to become a midwife, which was what her great-great-grandmother was, Sorensen said.

Sorensen believes that's the reason Hannah worked to save her money to buy items for newborn kits, which contain supplies for babies and are distributed to other countries by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"She loved little children," Sorensen said. "That's probably why she selected the newborn kits, to help out those in other countries that don't have the advantages we have for our babies."

Music was also an important part of Hannah's life, as she began playing the violin nearly four years ago. Monday night around the campfire, Hannah had performed solos and duets with her 8-year-old sister Miriam for the trek participants.

The trekking families weren't related but were friends. The Wagstaffs had attended the Castle Valley Pageant last year and met the Seely family when they stayed at the Seely family farm.

Hannah and Miriam were only supposed to be with the group for two days, then their family was headed to one of her parents' art galleries — which are in Utah, New Mexico and New York, Sorensen said.

Clay Wagstaff focuses on landscape paintings, and Rebecca Wagstaff gleans inspiration for her still lifes from the scenes around her. She sold a scene depicting pioneers to the LDS Museum of History and Art.

The Wagstaff family lives and paints in their home and studio in Tropic. Frequent travel to their different galleries across the United States gave ample teaching opportunities for their daughters, Sorensen said.

Along with music and art, Hannah was passionate about karate, having just earned her green belt the week before the trek.

The family is grieving but has the security of their faith to sustain them, coupled with their memories of Hannah and her "amazing example," Sorensen said.

The family plans to stay in Tropic, near their daughter's grave and in an area where they find solace and inspiration, Sorensen said.

"Right now, they're finding it very comforting to be around the things that Hannah has had, the notes that she has written on the refrigerator," Sorensen said. "They're taking great comfort in being around that."


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com