RANDLEMAN — She loved children. Relatives will say that’s why she volunteered to be Santa’s elf at her U.S. Army Reserve headquarters in Concord.

The holiday party kicked off about noon. A unit inspection was all that remained before Pfc. Elizabeth Ryan Miller could don her costume to hand out gifts.

The Randleman woman never made it to work.

Miller, known as “Buffy” by family and friends, was killed a few miles from headquarters Sunday morning upon impact with an approaching van.

Her death leaves family and Army Reserve colleagues wondering what might have been for a 19-year-old one superior called “up-and-coming,” both as a finance specialist with her unit and as a future nurse in civilian life.

“I’m an old soldier, and there are a lot of older soldiers in our unit. Most of us got our military careers behind us,” said Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Payne.

“When we lose a young soldier like this, it’s not just a loss to her family, it’s a loss to the Army and Army Reserve.

“Sometimes you just don’t see the dedication of younger people coming in, but in her case, you could really tell she loved what she was doing.”

No one knows exactly why it happened — but Miller’s 1990 Chevrolet Lumina drifted over the center line as she rounded a bend on Corban Avenue shortly after

7 a.m. Sunday.

The woman in the oncoming van suffered serious injuries and is expected to live. That’s about the only good news Miller’s family can glean from a tragedy that ended the life of a woman who planned to enter Randolph Community College in February.

“Buffy just had a heart and compassion for people,” said Darla Parks, Miller’s mother. “She wanted to help others.”

Miller spent her first years of life in Reidsville. Her father died of bone cancer when she was 2, prompting mother and daughter to relocate. They moved down the street from family in Randleman.

She joined the Army Junior ROTC at Randleman High School her freshman year. Parks said her daughter was attracted by the discipline ROTC instilled — and because of the flattering uniforms, she added with a laugh.

“Both her grandpas were in the Army,” Parks said. “She said she wanted to do something special for her country, too.”

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks cemented that devotion. Parks said her daughter lost a friend when the World Trade Center collapsed in New York City.

Miller’s softer side could be seen in the way she interacted with younger brothers, sisters and cousins. Family members said all the children admired Miller.

“Christmas was her favorite time of year. Christmas and family meant everything to her,” said Katherine Summerlin, Miller’s grandmother. “I think it was the unity of family being together.”

Miller’s services are planned for 2 p.m. today at Summerfield Baptist Temple. Interment follows at Lakeview Memorial Park, where she’ll receive a burial with full military honors.

“She’s going to be missed,” said Shannon Sutphin, one of Miller’s aunts.

The once-future nurse will be lowered into the ground this afternoon the way her family knows she’d want to leave — in U.S. Army fatigues.

Contact Eric J.S. Townsend at 373-7008 or etownsend@

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