The funeral for Ellie Soutter was held in France on Thursday, with 400 mourners gathering to say their goodbyes to the rising star athlete.
Ellie, a British snowboarder tipped to compete for Team GB in the 2022 Winter Olympics, died July 25 — her 18th birthday — in the forests of Les Gets in the French Alps.
Her father, Tony Soutter, 53, told the BBC on Tuesday that the combination of the intense pressures of elite sport and his daughter’s pre-existing mental health issues may have contributed to her ending her own life. Authorities have yet to announce Ellie’s official cause of death.
During Thursday’s service at the 19th century Eglise de la Nativité de Marie in Les Gets, Ellie’s mother, Lorraine Denman, paid tribute to her little girl, saying, “No matter where the future takes us, I will always be there beside you. Loving you. Supporting you. Encouraging you,” according to the U.K.’s Daily Mirror.
“Our private bond meant you and I together could achieve anything. No one here will ever understand how close we were. No matter where the future takes us I will always be there for you,” Denman reportedly said while speaking beside Ellie’s simple wooden coffin — which was flanked by two snowboards, according to the Mirror.
“I love you and adore you Ellie, but you must now rest and worry no more,” Denman continued. “We will look out for each other forever. I make you that promise.”
Tony, who shared a home with his daughter in Les Gets and was the last person to see her alive, emotionally described Ellie as his “best friend, my rock.”
“Ellie and I moved here together in 2009,” he told mourners, according to the Mirror. “She found it very tough at first, for the first six months. Missing her mum and finding the language difficult.
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Continued Tony, “I always had a vision of her being a skier, but she had other ideas. One day she was spotted by Team GB. And from then on, she astounded everyone. She became the most beautiful athlete”
Noting that his daughter easily made friends, and joking that she maybe went to too many parties, the Mirror reported Tony said, “She was everything I have lived for, for the last 18 years. And they will remain the best years of my life. I will miss you desperately, ride high my angel.”© Provided by TIME Inc.
Following the funeral service — which was conducted in French and English, and featured renditions of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” as well as Robbie Williams’s “Angels,” according to the Mirror — Ellie’s coffin was taken to a private crematorium. It is expected that her ashes will be scattered locally.
The family requested no flowers, instead, asking mourners to donate to The Ellie Soutter Foundation, which Tony set up three days after his daughter’s death to raise money for aspiring British winter athletes. It has so far raised more than $15,000 and counting.
RELATED: Ellie Soutter Was in a ‘Good Mood’ Before Sudden Death on Her 18th Birthday, Says Close Friend
“We’ve lost our ambassatrice,” Henri Anthonioz, mayor of Les Gets, tells PEOPLE of Ellie. “We’ve been very affected by what has happened. Ellie was admired, she was friendly with everyone. She was radiant, beautiful. She had everything.”
Anthonioz, who has been mayor of the small mountain village since 2008, adds, “She lived here for nine years, went to school here and yet we didn’t — we couldn’t — know the life she had.”
“We didn’t know the life she had in England or the effect she had on people all over,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been surprised by the press, by the response from everywhere but when I went into the church this morning and I saw how it was filled, how there were so many English inside and girls in the pews crying, I said to myself: ‘She had the world behind her.’ ”
Thursday, he adds, “has been a day which marked the village. All the inhabitants know the drama which has touched the village. We don’t know why this happened, she was very much of a perfectionist and she wouldn’t have wanted to disappoint anyone. That was what she was like.”
“For us it is a great loss, but you must understand that for her family, her friends, catastrophic.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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