Melissa M. Barthelemy was a passionate, loving daughter with a zest for life and a large group of family and friends who loved her.
That was apparent Monday night, when about 170 people joined together to remember the young, beautiful girl who died, apparently at the hands of a serial killer, after she disappeared in July 2009.
"Our hearts are just wretched over this," said Craig McLeod, pastor of Life Church in West Seneca, where the tearful throng gathered. "We don't understand. She was a girl created in your image -- in your dignity, she has the mark of you on her."
That mark of God was celebrated in the words of the Rev. Patricia Guinn, who opened the service by reciting a Bible passage from the Book of Isaiah, and in a poem recitation and a slide show showing the youthful Barthelemy, a 24-year-old Buffalo native, as a smiling youngster.
"This is hard to put into words, but there is something gone, and it's very hard to lose someone who is so close to you," said Guinn, who said she lost her brother at a young age. "Parents and grandparents do not ever want to bury a child or grandchild."
Guinn's words gave way to images of Barthelemy smiling ear-to-ear under her family's Christmas tree, in her proud father's arms, and laughing while "locked" in her dog's crate.
"I remember that," whispered one family friend.
The rest of the congregation, at the urging of McLeod, tried to understand and make sense of the death of the 2003 South Park High School graduate who moved to New York City in 2007 to pursue a hairdressing career. Authorities said she might have worked as an escort before her death.
Barthelemy's family declined to speak with a reporter. They previously said they were rebuffed by New York City police when trying to file a police report. A family friend at the Erie County Sheriff's Office eventually got the process moving, they said.
Monday, two members of the New York Police Department traveled to the service to support Barthelemy's family.
"The family has been as strong as anything," said Lt. William McGroarty of the NYPD.
McGroarty said his division isn't in charge of missing persons, but he assisted the investigation after forging a special bond with the family.
McLeod prayed that the event would allow members of the congregation to truly give their life to God. He ended his remarks with a simple request: "May Melissa, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace with our Lord."