CEDAR CITY Words of comfort, songs of wisdom and thoughts of love were all showered on the surviving relatives and friends of the 10 people killed in a plane crash near Moab last Friday.
Thousands of people gathered on the campus of Southern Utah University to mourn and celebrate the lives of those who died. Bigger-than-life portraits of the victims were displayed on the stage, overlooking more than 180 family members who sat in rows on the floor of the Centrum Arena.
"Mourning is one of the deepest and most profound expressions of love," said SUU President Michael Benson, whose remarks were punctuated with pauses while he struggled with his emotions. "Our community has banded together in our grief. We have forged stronger bonds because of our attendance tonight."
Benson was one of several speakers at the special memorial who shared poignant memories of those who lost their lives: Dallin Ellsworth, Lansing Ellsworth, Cecilee Goddard, David Goddard, Valerie Imlay, Mandy Johnson, Keith Shumway, Marci Tillery, Camie Vigil and David White.
Nine were employees of Red Canyon Aesthetics and Medical Spa dermatology clinic, while White was the aircraft's pilot.
Dane Leavitt, whose firm co-owned the aircraft with the clinic, spoke of his grief upon hearing news of the crash and of the conflicting emotions that followed.
"I feel like you. I feel a resolve to help," said Leavitt. "These last six days have given me a unique window to this tragedy. While it is deeply saddening, it is also filled with light. I have seen families in the depth of mourning reach out to others."
Dr. Robert Nakken, an orthopedic surgeon, reminisced about his longtime friend, Dr. Lansing Ellsworth.
"He enjoyed the simple things in life, like milkshakes," Nakken said. "When I think of what makes our community great, it's the people. In talking to many people about this tragedy, they say, 'it must be a dream,' or wonder, 'why, why did it happen?'"
Tragedies like these are pivotal moments in our lives, he said.
"This is our challenge, in their absence. We can only reconcile this tragedy by the way we live our lives," Nakken said.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. also spoke, noting personal accomplishments or unique personality traits of those who died.
"In the face of this truly unspeakable tragedy, what can we say when no words can express our sorrow? What can we do?" said Huntsman, whose voice seemed to be worn and rough with grief. "We can unite and love one another. Please know that you do not mourn alone. We unite as a state. We pray for comfort, strength and understanding."
Huntsman said he took a measure of comfort in knowing that the 10 who perished were on a "mission of mercy."
"All of us will be measured by our service to others," he noted. "These great people on that plane know something about lifting others. Our state has suffered an enormous loss, and we are one in extending love to the family and friends of those who were lost."
Elder Steven Snow of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shared his testimony of the divine nature of the human spirit and read a letter penned by the First Presidency of the LDS Church.
The LDS Church leaders expressed their sympathy for the sudden loss of life, adding there is no substitute for the absence of a loved one's physical presence at home.
"But we rejoice with you their lives of service. They will further develop their talents in another sphere," Elder Snow said, reading from the letter. "You are comforted by the knowledge that they are with their Lord."
Funerals began earlier this week and continue through Saturday for those killed in the crash. A memorial walk fundraiser is scheduled in Cedar City on Sept. 5 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Canyon Trail near the Little League Ball Parks. All donations will go to the victims' families.Ten trees will be planted along Coal Creek Parkway to honor the victims and a monument will later be erected at the Cedar City Cemetery. For more information on any of these projects or to donate, contact the Leavitt Center at SUU at 435-586-7868.
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