Theresa Insana moved to Las Vegas four years ago and was on her way to a successful career as a casino sales executive.
Monday, more than 300 people filled St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Catholic Church to say goodbye to her at a Mass of Christian Burial.
The body of the 26-year-old Niagara Falls native was found a week ago in the desert, a few miles from her Las Vegas home. She had been strangled, the Clark County coroner's office said. No arrests have been made in the case.
"The circumstances of her death are truly devastating," said Monsignor Leonard E. Biniszkiewicz, pastor of St. Teresa's. "Although we read about such incidents in the daily news, this is different -- this is our Theresa."
Insana was born in Niagara Falls and was a 1996 graduate of Niagara Falls High School. Her parents are active members of St. Teresa's. Insana was baptized at the church and received her first Communion there.
She received a degree in psychology from Binghamton University in 2000. But her career path went in a different direction.
"She told us she was leaving Niagara Falls to seek her fortune," her father, Joseph, said in his eulogy. "She had complete confidence that she would be a success."
Insana moved to Las Vegas in June of 2000 and was recently promoted to sales manager at the Rio Hotel and Casino.
"She made the perfect salesperson," her father said. "She was also an in-house psychologist. Her colleagues found her a very caring and loving person. She meant so much to everyone, not just here, but 3,000 miles away."
After her body was found, the front steps of her home were filled with flowers and candles from co-workers and friends.
"When she moved to Las Vegas and became a big-city person, she always had the best clothes and the best shoes," her former school friend Grace Carducci told the congregation. "She was adventurous and daring, with a fierce love for her family and friends."
Las Vegas homicide detectives believe Insana disappeared from her Las Vegas home on the evening of Oct. 26, the last time she spoke by phone with her family in Niagara Falls. Her car was still in the garage, and her dog, purse, keys and cellular phone were inside the house, Lt. Tom Monahan, who is heading the investigation, said Monday. There were no signs of forced entry.
Insana's parents immediately flew to Las Vegas and joined the citywide search for their daughter. Her body was found last Monday in a ditch at a construction site, about four miles from her home.
"We have to keep going, we have to keep living," Biniszkiewicz said at the service. "We have to pass through the coldness of this violent act. Life is fragile, and faith is our strength."
The night before she graduated from college, Insana wrote a letter to Carducci. "I'm truly excited about the future that lies ahead for both of us. I know it's going to be a crazy ride. You're my best friend, and I will miss you, but I will see you soon. Love, Theresa."
Burial was in St. Joseph's Cemetery.
In addition to her father, she is survived by her mother, AnnMarie of Niagara Falls; a brother, Christopher of North Tonawanda; and a sister, Maribeth of Niagara Falls.