This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Three years ago, hundreds of people turned out to search for her missing 5-year-old daughter. But on Thursday, Rachael Norton sat alone, legs crossed on top of one of the large planters on Main Street in Salt Lake City.
The money people donated to her family after Destiny's murder, as much as $30,000, is gone. So is the Magna home they put part of the money toward. So is her marriage -- Norton divorced the father of her four daughters in August.
As Rickey Norton was jailed on suspicion of drug and weapons crimes this week, Norton shared what the years since Destiny's death have held for her family. Norton, 31, says she became homeless -- "couch surfing" as she calls it -- in April and only recently found a place to live with her three girls.
"I thought everything was going to work out," Norton said. "It just didn't."
Norton and her family had some chances to rebuild their lives after Destiny's murder. But the couple never got counseling following their daughter's death, and some kinds of support became a double-edged sword: Norton had difficulty with the whispers at work, the hugs from strangers that being Destiny's mother often brought.
"It makes it difficult to proceed with a normal life when everybody thinks you're a sideshow," Norton said.
Still, Norton's tale starts with a wedding.
She married Rickey on July 8, 2006. It was a big step for a couple that had already lived a hard life.
Norton said she was born in Utah, abused as a child and spent much of her childhood in group homes and foster homes out of state before returning to Utah at age 16. Rickey was raised in Texas and came to Utah at age 16 through Job Corps but quickly dropped out, his ex-wife said. Rickey Norton declined an interview request made through the Salt Lake County jail.
Neither of the pair finished high school, and the two met at the now-demolished Crossroads Mall.
Days later, Rickey appeared at Norton's 19th birthday party; they would spend the next 12 years together.
Destiny was born in November 2000 and another daughter came in July 2004. Norton was pregnant with a third daughter when the couple married. Then, eight days after the ceremony, Destiny went outside to play in the backyard of the family's rented duplex near 500 E. 700 South.
"It was bliss for those eight days," said Norton, remembering what would happen next.
One of the Norton's neighbors, Craig R. Gregerson, opened a gate and lured Destiny out of her yard and into his apartment. Minutes later, he suffocated Destiny, sexually abused her, and hid her body in a plastic storage container in his basement.
Police found the body eight days later, after hundreds of volunteers had searched for the girl and her name became well-known in Utah. Her funeral was held at an LDS church across the street from the Norton home and included city dignitaries.
People gave money, too: about $30,000, according to Norton, and a dealership gave them a newer used car.
"We had donations from all over the place," she said.
The family used $10,000 to lease and furnish a home in Magna that included an option to buy after one year.
But Norton said she does not know what happened to the other $20,000 -- she said Rickey Norton controlled the money.
"We spent $10,000 of it on the house and the rest he just kind of blew on whatever," Norton said. "I'm not even sure. I was hung up with the kids."
When asked whether donors should be upset, Norton spread her arms, turned her palms up and said: "It helped out a lot and did get us going on the right track."
When the one year ended, the Nortons went to the Realtor and were told they did not qualify for a loan, in part because Norton had not worked at her job long enough, she said. Rickey Norton has worked on and off over the years as a landscaper.
Norton said the Realtor gave the family another year for the option, but Rickey did not want to wait. The couple was growing weary of Utah.
Norton recalled a job interview at a state liquor store. The interviewer said: "You're Destiny Norton's mom, aren't you?"
The Nortons decided to move near Rickey's old home near Palacios, Texas, and asked FBI agents that had once helped in the search for their daughter for help.
Norton said once the office secretary realized who she was, she started crying and wanted to hug her. The secretary meant well, but Norton said she told FBI agents: "This is why I want out of Utah."
Debbie Dujanovic Bertram, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Utah, said the FBI directed the Nortons to a state-government run fund for crime victims. Rachael Norton said her family received $2,000 to help the family relocate to Texas.
But tensions remained. Rachael Norton said she and her husband never sought counseling to cope with Destiny's death.
"He just never wanted to do it and I never had the time," she said. "I had to take care of him and the kids."
"Sometimes I thought he blamed [the murder] on me, and sometimes he thought I blamed it on him," Norton said.
Over the next two years the couple bounced back and forth between Texas and Utah, with their final daughter born in April 2008.
After they returned to Utah for good, Norton found a job but Rickey had trouble finding work, she said.
The couple's relationship deteriorated further in April of this year, when Norton said she caught Rickey cheating on her. The couple split, and Rickey filed for divorce and took the girls with him, Norton said.
Not long after that, Norton said, she developed kidney and gallstones, had to be hospitalized and lost her job and the home she lived in. The couple had traded in the donated car for a new one and Rachael Norton said she stopped making payments. The car was repossessed.
Norton said she saw her daughters sporadically the next four months. In a request for a protective order, Norton recounted an Aug. 5 episode when Rickey brought the girls to see their mother. Rachael Norton got inside the car to hug the girls and Rickey closed the door behind her and drove away, she said.
The court papers say Rickey hit her with an open fist when she tried to get out of the car. Norton on Thursday said the punch came when Rickey told her to stop seeing her new boyfriend and she refused.
About that time, Salt Lake City police said, they started investigating Rickey for selling marijuana. Narcotics detectives served a search warrant on Tuesday at the West Jordan home where he was living with a girlfriend.
Documents on file at the Salt Lake County jail say detectives found marijuana packaged for sale, a gun and children -- not the Norton girls -- they considered to be endangered because of drugs in the home. Rickey was released from jail Friday on bail and formal charges have not been filed.
Norton said she knew nothing about any drug dealing. She learned of the arrest from a friend on Wednesday. She immediately contacted Rickey's girlfriend and demanded her children. They were reunited that night.
Out on Main Street Thursday, Norton said she "hardly" ever takes her children out and is in the process of moving herself and her daughters to a friend's home in Layton so she can get back on her feet. She doesn't have a phone yet, much less a resume.
About 6 p.m., as most people have left or are leaving downtown Salt Lake City go to home, Norton still sat on the planter. She had finished discussing the problems and tragedies she's suffered and the opportunities that did not come to fruition.
She raised a fist, shook it and with a chuckle said: "I just haven't figured out what I've done to make the universe so mad at me."