NASHVILLE, Ill. — A teenager killed along with three relatives in a Kentucky plane crash that her 7-year-old cousin survived was eulogized Wednesday as a vibrant, arts-loving girl who embraced her diversity of friends.
The service for 14-year-old Sierra Wilder in her southern Illinois hometown of Nashville came two days before private funerals for the other victims of the Jan. 2 crash — Nashville furniture store owner Marty Gutzler, 48, wife Kim Gutzler, 46, and their 9-year-old daughter, fourth-grader Piper.
With Wilder's family and friends packing two parlors of the funeral home, the Rev. Danny Donato eulogized the teenager as an initially "quite shy" child who blossomed into an extrovert with an eclectic mix of friends, an infectious smile and a passion for selfies.
"Rarely did you not see her smiling, or not giggling with her friends," Donato said, standing near Wilder's closed casket and collages of photos of her.
"Sierra's death was untimely and tragic. I can't even pretend to imagine what's going on in your minds or hearts," he added. "We are cut to the very deepest parts of our soul. How could God let this happen? These are questions with few, if any, answers."
Many mourners dabbed away tears, notably when a friend of Wilder's, Emily Detering, began crying and couldn't finish singing a guitar-accompanied song in tribute to her friend.
It was not immediately clear if Sailor Gutzler, who was injured in the crash but walked nearly a mile through the dark woods to find help, attended Wednesday's service. The girl, who suffered a broken wrist, is staying with relatives, attorney and family spokesman Kent Plotner has said.
Wilder was traveling with the Gutzlers back from a Florida vacation when the small plane piloted by Marty Gutzler — a licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor — crashed. Federal investigators still are trying to determine what caused the accident, and a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board could come as soon as next week.
After the crash, Sailor endured near-freezing temperatures while dressed in shorts and T-shirt during her trek through thick woods and briar patches. She came to the home of 71-year-old Larry Wilkins, who said she was crying and covered in blood when she told him her mother and father were dead.
Wilkins said Sailor's grandparents told him Tuesday that her physical injuries would heal, but that they didn't speak of her emotional state.
"You can heal some wounds, but emotionally that's just going to take some time," said Wilkins, adding that he offered to attend the family's funerals "if the little girl wanted me there."
"She's tough, that little girl is," he said.