Some 500 friends and loved ones of Nicolle Butler gathered last weekend for a funeral to remember the 27-year-old first grade teacher who died in a motorcycle accident.
But later that night, her father's pickup truck was stolen from the parking lot of his hotel -- and with it an urn containing her ashes.
"It really elevated the importance of the case for all of us here at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office," said Amanda Granit, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.
Word went out to local media in the Tampa, Florida, area, along with a description of Donald Butler's gray Ford pick-up. On Friday, police got a tip that a truck matching the description had been abandoned by the side of the road, and late that night the truck and the urn were returned to Donald Butler.
"The only thing in it was Nikki," Butler said, adding that he had emptied out the truck in preparation to trade it in, before driving it to his daughter's funeral.
Now that his daughter's ashes are again in the family's custody, Butler said they can get back to remembering "Nikki-Nik," as he used to call her. He plans to set up a foundation and an annual gold tournament in her honor.
A good student who enjoyed cheerleading throughout high school and college, Nicolle loved her work as a teacher and was passionate about doing more to stop bullying.
"She had a good, strong head," Butler said.