Rae of Sunshine

Emily Rae Rice died in jail. Her friends and family want to know why.

Gallagher also says that during his initial research, he found that some of Emily's complaints to jail officials of numbness and trouble breathing were met with mulish advice to "sleep it off."

"We're still waiting for the results of the autopsy to determine the actual cause of death," says DPD spokeswoman Virginia Quiñones. "Our homicide investigators have taken over the case, as they would in any death."

Dee Martinez, director of public relations and marketing for DHMC, would not comment on Emily's injuries, saying that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents the hospital from discussing the care of any patient.

Emily Rice's smile could light up a room.
Emily Rice's smile could light up a room.

But while the police and the hospital aren't talking, news of Emily's passing hit the Denver community fast and hard. As word got around, the Denver Message Board quickly filled with thoughts and prayers from her many friends and acquaintances.

"That's chilling," one message reads.

"Uggggg. That's my guts ripping out again," says another.

At Herman's, employees swap Emily stories, telling them as though the girl who began as a valet on the curb out front will walk through the door at any second. "She was bubbly, energetic, kind, sweet and funny," says Deb Seigerman, head waitress at Herman's. "She filled the room with smiles. I remember once there was a guy sitting at the bar one night. He was sitting down and his pants were loose, and he had a bit of a plumber's crack hanging out. I kept noticing it all night. Then, toward the end of the night, Emily walks by and real nonchalantly drops a pen down the back of his pants. He didn't even feel it; he had no idea. Ten minutes later, she walks over to the same guy and asks him if she can borrow a pen."

"There are not too many people that you meet, and the moment you meet them you know they just have no negative side whatsoever," says Mike Roth, one of Herman's owners. "Emily was like that. I never saw her upset or out of line. She was just a really nice, good person. She treated everyone like a friend."

A couple of days after Emily passed away, one of her friends stopped by to see Emily's mom. Sue says the woman told her she hadn't been able to stop thinking about Emily and that she seemed to have involuntarily appropriated one of Emily's quirks: hanging pay-phone receivers upside down. "It was just something that Emily always did," Sue says. "Her friend told me that now she couldn't pass a pay phone anymore without doing it, too."

At a benefit concert to celebrate Emily and raise money for her family this past Monday, other friends reported adopting the quirk as well, flipping phones across the city as a tribute to the irreverence, playfulness and sense of fun that their friend brought to the world every day.

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