WATERLOO, Ill. (AP) — The widow of an Air Force veteran who died with two of their young sons during a Missouri hike told mourners Friday she's comforted knowing her husband and boys were loved and "together until the very last moment."
Standing near the three caskets inside an Illinois funeral home, Sarah Decareaux tried hard to find the words to say and not cry.
"I just love my boys. I love their daddy," she said of David, 36, and their inquisitive Cub Scout sons, Dominic, 10 and Grant, 8. "I know they're resting in peace, and I know they're all together."
David Decareaux's flag-draped casket was flanked by the boys' tiny white ones during the service, which was marked by a moment that brought many of the 200 mourners to tears: Dominic and Grant being posthumously named honorary Eagle Scouts.
The Millstadt, Ill., father set out last Saturday with his sons on the narrow Ozarks Trail in southeast Missouri during a family outing to the Mark Twain National Forest. The three got lost and never returned.
Their bodies were found the next day on the trail just a mile from where the rest of the family waited. Authorities said they died of hypothermia from temperatures that dropped from nearly 60 degrees to below freezing.
Two inches of rain also dumped on the area, and that combined with an eventual loss of sunlight turning the forest pitch black made the bone-chilling conditions even more threatening to the hikers, who wore only light clothing.
Hiking experts have suggested such tragedies are preventable if trekkers pay close attention to forecasts and dress for the weather.
But on Friday, there was no second-guessing as relatives and friends in the Illinois town of Waterloo, just southeast of St. Louis, reflected on the close-knit, spiritual and adventurous family.
Several photos of Sarah, David and their five children were displayed in an area just outside the parlor where the funeral was held. Some showed the family enjoying the outdoors, others in portrait settings.
Dominic and Grant's scouting shirts also were hanging nearby. And there was a memory book, its cover bearing loving tributes by the boys' sister who created it.
"Dad, I hope you are having fun in heven. I love you," the girl had scrawled.
Those who spoke about David Decareaux at the funeral described him as a loyal, smart man whose chance meeting with Sarah left him love-struck, with their five-week, whirlwind romance culminating in marriage.
Decareaux, who was all business when it came to his work in the Air Force and more recently for the Pentagon's Defense Information Systems Agency at a nearby air base, was known for his lighter side as well. He enjoyed a good prank and taught himself how to play guitar, his Bible never far away.
Brittany Raborn, 11 years younger than brother David, recalled relentlessly pestering her brother growing up.
"Because I wanted to be just like you," she said, directing her words to her brother in spirit and to mourners. "I followed your every move."
Once, in middle school, she even passed off David's intricate artwork as her own.
"Your smarts set you up to have a very successful career, and I bragged about you often," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "I hope my children are as wonderful as yours."
Others also spoke highly of the boys called "beautiful little angels" by their mother. Grant loved animals; "Dom" was a budding war buff.
Sarah Decareaux read passages her husband had highlighted in his Bible, and a minister also alluded to David's spirituality by insisting he wouldn't want mourners to dwell on losing him.
"This is where he always longed to be," said the Rev. Steve Neill of the local First Baptist Church. "And he has his boys with him."