SANTA CRUZ -- Police detective Elizabeth Butler, gunned down Tuesday while conducting an investigation on North Branciforte Avenue, loved to cook, hike, ride roller coasters and spend time with her partner Peter Wu and their sons Joaquin, 5, and Stellan, 2.
Just last weekend, the family of four hung out a local beach, a family member said.
Butler, 38, moved to Santa Cruz in 1992 to attend UC Santa Cruz, where she earned a degree in community studies in 1996.
Butler -- the daughter of the late Gerald Butler and Louise Butler, who recently moved to Santa Cruz -- grew up in Lomita, a small town near Los Angeles.
She attended Catholic high school Bishop Montgomery in nearby Torrance, where she was
Ron Jenkins, who taught Butler history at Bishop Montgomery, remembered the former student vividly after he saw Butler's senior portrait posted on the high school's website Wednesday as a tribute to Tuesday's horrific shooting that took Butler's life along with detective Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker.
"She was a great kid -- outgoing, bright," Jenkins said. "Beth was always friendly, she always connected with her teachers. She stood out."
Butler met her partner Peter Wu, a Santa Cruz Metro District bus driver, at a ceramics class in San Francisco, where she lived after college.
Butler joined the Santa Cruz Police Department in 2002 after graduating from San
In her 10 years with the Santa Cruz Police Department, Butler served as a patrol officer, a hostage negotiator, a downtown foot and bicycle officer, an agent with the county drug task force, and a detective.
She was friendly yet stern in her interactions.
In 2005, the Sentinel profiled Butler while she patrolled Pacific Avenue. She described her job as a mix of public relations and fighting crime.
Police Chief Kevin Vogel said Butler found her niche as a sexual assault investigator.
"She really had a passion for what she did. She had a huge heart," Vogel said. "She just developed a rapport with the women, with the survivors of sexual assault crimes. She had an uncanny ability to investigate these crimes and see justice was done."
Two weeks ago, Butler was part of the team investigating the shooting of a 21-year-old college student during a robbery at a Westside bus stop.
Butler gave testimony in an April 2012 preliminary hearing of a man accused of killing Santa Cruz resident Heather Stearns and leaving her body in his apartment for days. The man, John Bruce Clauer, still awaits trial on first-degree murder charges.
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee said Butler had worked closely with his office on many cases, including the Clauer case.
Lee said his prosecutors had gotten off the phone with Butler just a few hours before she was killed.
"She had extreme passion," Lee said. "She worked countless sexual assault cases. She was extremely diligent and extremely passionate about the victims in those cases."
In an interview with the Daily Breeze newspaper in Torrance, Alexis Butler said her sister was drawn to a career in law enforcement out of a desire to help people and use her ability to speak Spanish.
Alexis Butler said police work was perfect for Elizabeth because she "really liked to investigate things."
Handling sex crimes, Butler excelled at conducting interviews and interrogations, and interviewing children, her sister said.
Butler never became depressed, despite the nature of her work, Alexis Butler said.
"She ended up being a really good police officer. She loved the job," Alexis Butler said. "My sister believed in the innate goodness of people. She didn't dwell on it."
Elizabeth Butler completed her field project for UCSC at the Beach Flats Community Center, where she worked with young Latino students and decided to find a career that would benefit the local community.
Former Mayor Mike Rotkin, retired from the UCSC community studies program, worked closely with Butler on her field project.
"She really was a sweetheart and very community-minded," Rotkin said. "Her schoolwork prepped her for working in the community. She was serving the community in the best way."
Follow Sentinel reporter Shanna McCord on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsmom
Sentinel staff reporter Jessica M. Pasko contributed to this report.