MONTCLAIR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The death of 20-year-old Sarah Butler, of Montclair, has been ruled a homicide, acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced Friday.
Police officers found Butler’s body in an area of Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange on Thursday, more than a week after she had been reported missing.
A makeshift memorial of candles and flowers was growing Friday outside Butler’s home, where she lived with her parents and two sisters.
As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, a steady stream of family and friends were at the Butler home to offer their condolences to the grieving family.
“Rest in peace Sarah, you know we all love you, you will truly be missed until we see you again,” a woman said as she placed a candle at the growing memorial.
Hopes for a different outcome were shattered, and friends and family were left stunned by the sudden loss of a promising life cut short.
“She was the sweetest thing I ever had, and she’s gone now,” said her aunt, Phyllis Carpenter. “Somebody took her away.”
The New Jersey City University student had been missing since Nov. 23, just before Thanksgiving, when she was supposed to go with family to Jamaica for a funeral. Her father, Victor Butler, had been searching for his daughter since.
“I couldn’t help her,” said her father, Victor Butler. “That is the most hardest part.
‘The family’s having a hard time,” he added. We all are. … It was senseless.”
Her loss is leaving a big hole in the tight-knit community in Montclair, CBS2’s Christine Sloan reported.
“When someone hurts, we all do,” one woman said.
Between classes, Butler was a lifeguard at the local YMCA. Many on her block say they watched her grow into a young woman who had a bright future and an infectious personality.
“It’s a small town,” said neighbor Hadiyah Palmer. “When one hurts, we all do.”
Her aunt spoke about her niece’s love for dancing and how that dream is now over.
“She was a very beautiful dancer,” she told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck. “She would always come by and give me a hug. Always give me a hug and say, ‘Aunt Phyll, I love you darling.’ I say, ‘I love you, too, sweetheart.’ Thank God they found my niece. That’s all I can say right now. My heart is so heavy.”
Butler’s family said she had performed at the Apollo Theater multiple times.
“I loved her. She knew that, and I would have done anything for my baby,” her father said.
As the investigation continues, Victor Butler has a message for others: “Let somebody know where you are going. Have a friend. Don’t go blindly out there.”
Sources told CBS2 that authorities are waiting on autopsy results to pursue a lead they have in the case.
A reward of up to $10,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
Anyone with information is asked to call the prosecutor’s tip line/Major Crimes Task Force at 877-847-7432.