When James and Michelle Butler left New Hampshire in June in a pickup truck and a secondhand RV - James had traveled the world with the Navy, he told people, and now he wanted to see the United States - the couple stayed in near-constant contact with friends and family.
Out west, they told relatives when they'd be off the grid and reached out as soon as their service returned, remembers James' sister, Deborah van Loon. Loved ones looked forward to regular FaceTime calls and Facebook photos, reports The Washington Post.
In mid-October, the communication stopped.
On Oct. 27, a woman's body was found buried in a shallow grave on the Texas beach where the Butlers were last seen camping, officials with the Kleberg County Sheriff's Office told media. A day later, authorities discovered a man's body underneath. And on Friday evening, van Loon got a call from law enforcement: The bodies belonged to her brother and his wife.
The deaths, ruled homicides by a medical examiner, are still under investigation, the Associated Press reported. Authorities have video of the Butlers' truck and trailer crossing into Mexico, driven by someone else, according to CBS Boston.
Confirmation of the bodies' identities came a day before James' birthday, van Loon said.
Her brother was going to turn 49; Michelle was 46. Friday's call was devastating but also a "consolation," van Loon said, because family finally have some answers after reporting the couple missing weeks ago.
"The past week has been sheer hell not knowing, since they found the bodies - just being up in the air," she said.
The sheriff's office said a friend reported last seeing the couple Oct. 16, a day after they parked their RV on the beach on Padre Island, according to the AP.
Law enforcement officers "are working on identification of persons of interest and attempting to find the whereabouts of the victims' truck and RV trailer," the office said in a news release, the AP reported.
The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request from The Washington Post on Saturday.
The Butlers' family is working to bring the bodies home, van Loon said, and trying to make sense of a horrific turn in two happy lives.
The couple was having so much fun on the road that they had put their Rumsey, N.H., house on the market to become long-term "RVers," van Loon recalled. After working on Texas oil rigs to fund their travels, she said, they were about to move to Florida and sell Christmas trees, "to do something different."
Together, she said, the Butlers left behind five children.
As news of their deaths has spread, van Loon said, condolences have poured in from people around the country - and even around the world, thanks to James' 21 years in the armed forces.
"It's beautiful and heart-wrenching all at the same time," van Loon said.