EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - More than 1,000 people attended a public memorial service for Mandy Matula on Sunday afternoon at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.
After six months of heartache, there was no need to mention how the missing 24-year-old died. Instead, a line of loved ones took the microphone to remember how she lived.
Matula's family spoke to the congregation first. Her father, again, thanked all the volunteers and police who helped search for her.
"Never in your life do you imagine you will be standing in front of a large crowd saying goodbye to your child, our baby, the love of our life, the apple of our eye," said Wayne Matula, Mandy's father.
Her brother Steven said "he couldn't have asked for a better sister."
"She still teaches me every day gives me obstacles to face conquer and move on," he said.
Many said Mandy was the most valuable person in countless lives, much more than a standout softball player.
"She was strong, talented fearless and born to compete," said Jennifer Banford, her University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs softball coach.
Anyone who knew Mandy said if her signature pitch didn't knock you over, her personality would. Close friends mentioned her always tell-it-like-it-is sense of honesty and distinctive voice frequently singing off tune. Her softball teammates attested to that as they each took the stage, taking turns detailing Mandy's favorite moments of life.
"On your favorite day you would host a team party where we would eat an obscene amount of food, laugh and play games all night long, and it would hopefully end in a dance party ... On your favorite day you would leave your house without makeup, with your hair in a braid, wearing No. 14, your UMD softball sweats, and pink Timberlands ... On your favorite day you would rock out in front row to a Pink or Sugarland concert ... On your favorite day you would be in the middle of a party dancing your heart out for hours to whatever came out on the radio ... On your favorite day the sun would be shining and you'd be blaring country music with the windows down ...On your favorite day no one else would wear the No. 14 bulldog jersey but you."
Then, the team announced their plans to retire Mandy's softball number, No. 14, in her memory.
"So every day can be your favorite day," the team announced.
They ended their tribute with a dance Mandy taught them.
In addition, several dozen teenagers and young adults from Mandy's neighborhood dedicated a rose to her, in thanks for giving them so many childhood memories. Mandy was the oldest of the neighborhood kids who they looked up to as an encouraging role model.
Near the end of her funeral, the sunset filled the sky with purple, Mandy's favorite color. Many in attendance snapped photos of the fitting shades as they drove away.
She is laid to rest six months after she disappeared last May. Her remains were found Oct. 26 in a shallow grave in Stearns County.
Police believe she was shot in the head by her ex-boyfriend, David Marshall Roe. He shot and killed himself after agreeing to meet police for questioning.
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