Donations boom for family of South Dakota woman who died

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A Rapid City mother said she's grateful for the thousands of dollars in donations that helped bring home the remains of her daughter after she died hiking in Peru.

Whitney Stevens, 24, was hiking with a friend March 1 when she fell 100 feet into a river after the ground beneath her caved. Stevens' body was recovered the same day by a rescue team and cremated in Peru, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/2njzv98 ) reported.

Stevens' friend hiking with her, Molly Goin, was not injured.

Her remains were sent to Rapid City on March 15 after over $12,000 was raised through a GoFundMe campaign to cover transporting costs. A separate fundraising event at Five Guys Burgers raised about $7,000 and additional money was raised through a memorial fund at the Black Hills Federal Credit Union, where Stevens worked.

Stevens' mother, Roberta Ellis-Stevens, said any leftover money after transportation costs will be used to pay for day care and education expenses for Stevens' 4-year-old daughter Marley.

Ellis-Stevens said the family is "devastated over our loss of Whitney, but we're also thankful that Molly was saved and we're thankful for the community and the outreach and the outpouring ... we're just blessed."

Local villagers in a Peru town held a service and three blessings for Stevens' body before her ashes were sent home. A funeral service was held March 17 in Sturgis.

Stevens was a veteran who served in Iraq and Kuwait in 2011 and 2012. Her family was presented with an American flag at the funeral.

"I think that we all anticipate that our parents will be gone someday, but I don't think we anticipate that your child will be gone before you," Ellis-Stevens said. "I tell people all the time, 'Hug your kids.' It's such a finalization, but we're so thankful to have her home."

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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