Nicholas Doll
January 09, 2015 05:30 PM

The Gutzler family was laid to rest on Friday morning following a private funeral at Trinity Lutheran Church in Nashville, Illinois.

The night before, hundreds of mourners braved the cold to pay their respects to Kimberly Gutzler, 45, and Marty Gutzler, 49, as well as their daughter, 9-year-old Piper Gutzler, at a visitation at Nashville Grade School.

“It took two hours to just get to the family to say your condolences,” Donna Knight Hicks, Marty Gutzler’s friend since high school, tells PEOPLE.

The three Gutzlers were killed in a plane crash on Jan. 2 along with Piper’s cousin, 14-year-old Sierra Wilder.

Sailor Gutzler was the crash’s sole survivor. The 7-year-old navigated the cold and dark Kentucky woods by herself to find help.

“The entire town showed up, there were so many people,” says Knight Hicks, 48, of the visitation. “It really shows how much support the family has and will always have.”

A team of dogs, whose presence was requested by Rev. Matthew Wietfeldt of Trinity Lutheran Church, lined the hallways of the grade school on Thursday, bringing comfort to the friends and family assembled.

“They were a great distraction,” Knight Hicks says of the ten Golden Retrievers. “The dogs know how to get the kids to not pay so much attention to the grieving aspect.”

And there was plenty of grieving. “Instead of speaking everyone just cried,” says Knight Hicks. “There were a lot of tears shed and a lot of remembrance for how wonderful this family is.”

She adds: “The Gutzlers have experienced a lot of death. Marty’s sister died in a car crash years ago and Kim’s ex-husband also died in a car crash. It’s just so traumatic.”

At the school, Piper’s friends have filled her locker with notes and drawings in her memory.

“At the end of the day, we felt it was important to offer the kids the opportunity to write Piper a letter or draw her a picture,” Superintendent Michael Brink told PEOPLE.

“Most of the kids have partaken,” he added. “That’s been pretty therapeutic.”

As for Sailor, she’s with her family. “One neighbor with her two sons brought them food and they played with Sailor,” Knight Hicks says. “They said she was being so strong.”

A service for Sierra was held on Wednesday.


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