‘Hurt, wounded and raw’: Funeral held for 7 victims of rural Utah murder-suicide

Family and friends shared stories and memories of the 5 kids, mother and grandmother killed Jan. 4 in Enoch, Utah.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The graveside service for the Earl-Haight funeral at the cemetery in La Verkin on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Tausha Haight, her mother, Gail Earl, and Tausha's five children were shot and killed by Tausha's husband on Jan. 4.

La Verkin • The seven caskets sat in a neat row at the front of the quiet chapel.

Mourners who had steeled themselves outside couldn’t help but cry again at the sight of the stark sum, wiping tears away with crumpled tissues and whispers of “How could this happen? How did this happen here?”

The murders of the five children, their mother and grandmother have roiled the small, close-knit communities tucked among the redrock in this desert corner of the state. The family was found shot to death on Jan. 4 inside their Enoch home, where yellow caution tape still blows in the wind and inflatable Christmas decorations lay unmoving on the frosted lawn.

Few usually stop in the remote area off Interstate 15 where there looks to be more tractors than houses, but it has since become the focus of national attention for the domestic violence killings. Police say the children’s father shot his five kids, along with his wife, 40-year-old Tausha Haight, and Tausha’s mother, 78-year-old Gail Earl, before turning the gun on himself. The slayings happened two weeks after Tausha had filed for divorce.

On Friday, a little more than week after the deaths, more than 700 family members and friends came together for a funeral to remember the seven victims, holding tightly to each other in their grief and filling every pew and folding chair at the Latter-day Saint church near where Gail grew up. They donned black ties and clean cowboy boots.

“I stand before you hurt, wounded and raw,” said Gail’s daughter, Stacha Earl Westbrook, also the sister of Tausha and aunt to the children.

The family shared stories of the matriarch’s perfect bread making, with her kids devouring three hot loaves in less than an hour. And they laughed about her obsession with planning — which included her assigning ahead of time what she wanted each of her seven kids to talk about at her passing; Tausha never got to do hers. Gail was preceded in death by her husband, Boyd.

“We’ve all got topics that Mom had given us,” said Brett Earl, Gail’s son and Tausha’s brother, who spoke on the Latter-day Saint views on families in the afterlife. “The funny part is, if you knew Mom, she could talk. But she’s limited us to five minutes.”

He looked over at the photo, showing Gail laughing with her short brown hair and thin wire glasses, that stood by her casket. “Well played, Mom.”

He looked at the pictures, too, of Tausha and her kids, crowded by big bundles of lilies and roses. His words were weighted by the loss of nieces, daughters, mothers, brothers, nephews, sons.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pallbearers carry a casket to the graveside service for the Earl-Haight funeral at the cemetery in La Verkin on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Tausha Haight, her mother, Gail Earl, and her five children were shot and killed by her husband Jan. 4.

By the tiniest casket, sitting to the left of the chapel, was an image of 4-year-old Gavin giving what his aunts and uncles called “his most mischievous grin.” Aunt Kandace Earl Booth said the little boy loved to draw on the walls of the family’s home.

“And not like a picture frame, but like murals all over their walls,” she said, laughing at the memory though her eyes were rubbed red from crying. “They’d paint the walls, and he’d just repaint his drawings right over it again.”

He loved superheroes but couldn’t say any of their names right. His hugs were like football tackles.

School portraits of 7-year-old twins Sienna and Ammon came next. Sienna is shown giggling in glasses and overalls, Ammon in his favorite red flannel shirt. Ammon had just finished his Lego model of the Titanic, which he was excited to get for Christmas. Sienna loved everything about cats and dressed up as one for Halloween every year. Both loved riddles and jokes and were looking forward to their upcoming baptism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Briley, 12, was a master at both piano and cello and memorized all of her pieces, said Westbrook. Briley wanted to be a librarian; she loved books and would eagerly recount her favorite plots. “Now I can’t make you tell me the best parts,” Westbrook said, choking up.

The oldest, 17-year-old Macie, was set to graduate from high school this year and planned to go to Southern Utah University in nearby Cedar City. Whenever she’d tease someone in the family, Booth recalled, Macie would add that it was “said with love.” Westbrook added that Macie’s favorite color was yellow and that she dreamed of becoming a mom some day.

In her photo, Tausha smiles in a grove of aspens. She loved nature. And she wanted to be like her own mom, who passed down a deep love for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to her kids— with Gail never missing a scripture lesson in their home when Tausha was growing up.

The siblings at the funeral joked Friday that requiring their speeches was one more way that Gail was teaching them. And they believed Tausha had already passed on those lessons to her children.

“Tausha was an incredible mother who constantly sacrificed everything for her children,” Booth said. “She taught them love, kindness, service, dedication and the gospel of Christ through her example.”

(Tina Brown) Tausha Haight is surrounded by her five children in an undated photograph. Tausha, her mother, and children were fatally shot by her husband, Michael Haight on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, before he killed himself, according to officials.

She especially loved her role in serving as the president for the young women group in her local church. Many of the girls she taught there, alongside children in the Primary program, attended the funeral and sang together, “I Will Walk with Jesus.” Those same kids were the classmates of the Haight kids who were killed. They sniffled and sobbed through the chorus, missing school for the day to honor the loss of their young friends.

“Change my heart forever and help me clearly see,” they wavered, voices breaking.

The program also included a rendition of “An Angel to Watch Over Me.” Booth, Westbrook and Tausha surprised their mom Gail by singing that song to her one Mother’s Day about 20 years ago. It felt fitting to them to hear it again at the funeral.

There were small touches of love and memories throughout the service for the seven. Westbrook joked about how she and Tausha used to fight incessantly, like sisters do, when they were growing up. “Our mom always said we’d be friends later in life,” Westbrook said “Dang, she was right.”

She paused as she thought about losing her sister, who’d become her best friend. “I’m sorry I couldn’t prevent this.” She pleaded for the opportunity to be able to take one more goofy photo with Tausha.

Instead, she said, this week “we got the devastating confirmation of our worst fears.” Gail had been at her daughter’s home to help with the kids as Tausha worked through the divorce.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brett Earl gives a statement to the media, after the Earl-Haight Family Funeral in La Verkin, on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

Tausha had always loved living in the town of Enoch because it was named for a city in Latter-day Saint scripture and reminded her of her faith. Next to an advertisement for sewing services, a sign along one of the streets by her house reads, “Prepare to meet thy God.”

The sign feels eerie now, some at the funeral said, as they try to grapple with the incomprehensible tragedy. Family members said they hope, though, that their loss will be a reminder to others of love — the love Tausha and Gail both had for their kids and their religion. And Gail would’ve loved anything about preparing or planning, they joked.

Brett Earl added that he wants the loss to also encourage anyone who is experiencing distress to seek help.

Tausha’s husband and the children’s father, Michael Haight, was not buried with the family or mentioned at the funeral. After the services, though, Earl told reporters that he is sorry for the “profound loss” of Haight’s parents and wished them peace.

“This is a story of two families hurt and broken,” he said.

The family also thanked police officers in Enoch, Cedar City and La Verkin, as well as deputies in the Iron County Sheriff’s Office who responded to the deaths and continue to investigate.

Many of those officers served as pallbearers for the family, included in a long list of those who carried the seven caskets out of the chapel.

Outside, seven hearses were lined up to carry them to the cemetery. When they were gone, purple petals were left behind, scattered on the sidewalk.

Editor’s note • Those who are experiencing intimate partner violence, or know someone who is, are urged to call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line, 1-800-897-LINK (5465), or the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line, 801-736-4356.

If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline’s 24-hour support.