Nearly a month after she disappeared in the Haiti earthquake, the body of Lynn University student Courtney Hayes is coming home.
Hayes' family received word from the U.S. State Department Wednesday afternoon that her body had been identified.
Her body was pulled from the rubble of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince and is being flown from Haiti to a lab in Dover, Del., for final forensic tests before being sent home to the family in Georgia, said her uncle, Dewey Hayes Jr.
A memorial service is being planned for 3 p.m. Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in her hometown of Douglas, Ga.
Hayes said it's a difficult time for the family.
"I always had hope," Hayes said. "I knew it would have to be a miracle."
Courtney Hayes was part of a group of 14 from the university who were in Haiti as part of a mission trip, called "Journey of Hope," to feed the needy. When the earthquake struck, they were staying at the Hotel Montana, which collapsed. Eight students were by the pool at the hotel and were able to escape.
Lynn officials said they still have received no word yet on the five others who are missing: Britney Gengel, 19, of Rutland, Mass.; Stephanie Crispinelli, 19, of Katonah, N.Y.; Christine Gianacaci, 22, of Hopewell, N.J.; Patrick Hartwick, 53, dean of the Ross College of Education; and Richard Bruno, 59, assistant professor in the College of Liberal Education.
"The news we received this evening was not the news we ever wanted to hear," Lynn President Kevin Ross said. "Courtney Hayes was an inspiration in life, and in death will be remembered for her giving spirit, warm smile and so much more."
Dewey Hayes said he'll remember Courtney as someone "who had a beautiful smile and a sweet disposition. She was my favorite niece."
Some of her friends on the social networking site Facebook remembered her Wednesday.
"RIP Courtney. Lord please ease the hurt of the Hayes' family. Only you can help them through this," one friend wrote.
"Soooooo sad," another wrote. "Courtney Elizabeth Hayes you will be missed! I love you and I'm thankful for closure."
Friends described Courtney as a caring soul who was aware she would see heartbreaking conditions in the slums of Port-au-Prince.
"But she wanted to make a difference," fellow student Mohamed Abdalla, 20, said recently. "She said she loved making a difference in the country."
Students at Lynn University have been on edge since the earthquake, Dan Hennessey, 21, president of the group Students for the Poor, said Wednesday. It will be difficult for students to hear about Hayes, as well as news of any other bodies that are found, he said.
"It's going to stir up emotion in the short term, but ultimately it will help. We can finally have some kind of closure," he said. "Knowing that these families have a final answer is helpful. For the families, it's just been tearing them up not to have answers."
Scott Travis can be reached at stravis@SunSentinel.com, 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun