February 20, 2012 12:00 PM

Fighting back tears, singer Aaron Carter stood before 70 mourners Feb. 4 to eulogize his big sister Leslie in a private funeral service in Mayville, N.Y. “He spoke so highly of her,” says a guest, “how she was always there for him and how much he loved her. It was very touching.”

And shocking. Just four days earlier, on Jan. 31, Leslie Carter, 25, sister to Aaron and Backstreet Boy singer Nick Carter, had fallen ill at her father’s home. She asked her family to watch her 10-month-old daughter Alyssa Jane while she rested. Hours later, according to a police report, she was found unresponsive in bed. Nearby, police discovered a muscle relaxant and medications to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety. (An official cause of death is awaiting toxicology results.) The tragedy shook the Carters. “Our family is grieving right now,” they said in a statement. Her brother Nick, out on the road, did not attend the funeral and issued his own statement, promising that the show would go on: “I am dedicating the rest of my tour to my sister.”

Like her famous brothers, Leslie pined for teen pop stardom. Things looked promising in 1999 when she signed with DreamWorks records, but while filming the video for her single “Like Wow,” she was told to wear dark, slimming clothes. “She wasn’t fat. She was maybe a size 8,” says an industry source, “but she was larger than Britney [Spears], who was the standard back then.”

Her career never took off, and her parents’ 2003 split left the family reeling: Nick and Aaron battled drug and alcohol problems while Leslie struggled with depression. The siblings’ 2006 reality show, House of Carters, also fizzled. Lately, however, things had been looking up. She married drummer Mike Ashton in 2008; they had a baby girl last year. At the funeral, Ashton “said how happy Leslie was,” says the mourner. “She loved being a mother, but now she won’t be here to see her little girl grow up.”

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