“She was the life of the party.”
That sentence described Raelle Begay, who was found dead early Friday morning as part of what law enforcement is calling a murder-suicide.
“She was just vibrant, one of those people who was the life of the party,” said Precious Douglas, Raelle’s cousin. “Any time we were with her, we’d always be cracking up.”
Funny, adventurous and loving was the theme as Begay’s family talked about her life Saturday. Only a day earlier they received the tragic news that Begay was found dead near the Wahweap Beach along with her boyfriend, Matt Franklin. As of Monday, law enforcement have released little information other than they believe the deaths were part of a murder-suicide.
Douglas and Audrianna Kaibetoney grew up as cousins of Begay, but the extended family was so close, they said they were basically sisters.
“There’s a lot of memories with her,” Kaibetoney said. “She was always happy, always laughing. She loved her kids. She’s going to be missed by everyone.”
Douglas echoed those thoughts, saying Begay was always the person her younger family members flocked to.
“She was so funny,” Douglas said. “Our whole family is nothing but jokesters. She was the one, when our sisters came into town, we’d all say we’re going to see Raelle. She was always pure joy.”
Douglas said she has a lifetime of memories with her cousin, so many funny moments to think back on.
“With Raelle, there’s so many moments,” she said. “She really loved Hot Cheetos. One time we were on the bus and she was way up front and I was way in the back. She sent me a note saying, ‘Can I have your Hot Cheetos.’”
Leaonna Douglas, Raelle’s aunt, agreed most of her memories of Begay made her smile.
“One memory that sticks out was during Christmas,” Leaonna said. “One of the boys got a karaoke machine for Christmas. Everyone was a little shy, but she was the first one who got up there and sang.”
After she laughed thinking about karaoke, Leaonna began fighting back tears as the reality of Begay’s death sank in.
“I loved Raelle,” she said. “All my nieces and nephews are like my kids. They carry a lot in my heart.”
Lenora Begay had the hardest time as she thought about her daughter. Even at 25, Raelle still lived with her mom, and Lenora said it is the little things she will miss the most.
“I always went everywhere with her,” Lenora said. “We went to her brother’s football games. I’m going to miss going to her brother’s football with her.”
Leaonna brought up that even as an adult with her own children, Raelle would find time to climb into bed with her mom.
“She would say, ‘you’ve got a big bed, I’m sleeping here,’” Lenora said. “I’m going to miss her.”
While Raelle’s family remembers her as the jokester and the life of the party, they admit things began to change over the winter when she began dating Franklin.
Her aunt said she became more withdrawn and quieter as the relationship went on.
Her mom even said there were clear signs of domestic abuse, saying just days before she died she came home with bruises on her face.
“I didn’t really care for her relationship with Matt,” Lenora said. “But she always told me, ‘I love him.’ I told her, ‘If someone loves you, they won’t bounce you around like that.’”
Leaonna also noticed the changes.
“Raelle and Matt, when they were together, when I would see them they would avoid me,” she said.
A domestic abuse survivor herself, Leaonna now says she regrets she didn’t do more to intervene.
“I just wish we had more time to talk to her about all that,” she said. “I myself lived through a lot of that and somehow I feel the need to share all my experiences. She was a very beautiful mother. She loved her kids and she loved herself.”
Gregg Martinez, executive director of the Page Regional Domestic Violence Shelter, said the family did everything they could. He said family members can only urge loved ones to leave abusive relationships. Ultimately, the decision is left up to individuals.
However, he did say the state and county could help out by being more aggressive in prosecuting cases, even when victims refuse to cooperate.
“There’s not anything an individual can say,” Martinez said. “But when the fight gets severe enough, the state needs to prosecute and most of the time they won’t.”