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Farewell, Dru

Dru Sjodin did come home for good Saturday, as her family brought the casket carrying her body for a last look at her house in Pequot Lakes, Minn., before lowering it into the ground in Pinewood Cemetery.

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Dru Sjodin did come home for good Saturday, as her family brought the casket carrying her body for a last look at her house in Pequot Lakes, Minn., before lowering it into the ground in Pinewood Cemetery.

About 1,500 people gathered at the Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, Minn., for the funeral of the former UND student who went missing five months ago in Grand Forks.

About 600 crowded the conference center, and 900 more sat in or stood around two white tents with live video of the service.

Thousands more watched the live television broadcast of it across the region, including in Grand Forks.

The men carrying her cas

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ket included those who had led the five months of searching for her, from the time she was abducted from Columbia Mall in Grand Forks until her body was found April 17 near Crookston. She had been slain, according to a preliminary autopsy report.

Grief Saturday, five months of clinging to hope culminated in grief.

Her mother, Linda Walker, of Pequot Lakes, leaned on the arms of Dru's father, Allan Sjodin, of Minneapolis, and of Dru's stepfather, Sidney Walker, as they followed Dru's casket into the funeral service.

Yellow and pink rose petals lined the paved walkway from the Grandview Lodge to the conference center 100 feet away.

Her sisters in the Gamma Phi Beta sorority at UND were honorary pallbearers.

Before the service, the Rev. Mark Anderson was asked what he tells those who wonder why such evil happens to someone he described as "beautiful on the outside but even more beautiful on the inside."

Bad things happen, Anderson said. "But so does grace, and that is what we focus on."

During the hour-long service in the Grandview's churchlike conference center set among pines and oaks on Gull Lake, Anderson prayed that "we may see in death that gate to eternal life."

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The apostle Paul "reminds us that every kind of evil you could ever name, including death, cannot separate us from God's love."

Despite the sorrows of a death such as Sjodin's, "God has the final word in our lives," Anderson said.

Quoting a German proverb, he said, "Those who die in the Lord never say goodbye for the last time."

Mourners Many came to say goodbye to Dru Sjodin.

Governors from North Dakota and Minnesota, John Hoeven and Tim Pawlenty, attended the funeral and the graveside ceremony. UND President Charles Kupchella and Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown also attended.

Sjodin's abduction spurred lots of political discussion in both states, including renewed calls for adding the death penalty to state law, the Rev. Anderson said during his short meditation.

Kelsey Pederson, a friend of Sjodin's, spoke of her to the 1,500 and those watching on live television broadcasts across the region, including in Grand Forks.

Memory "She saw the best in everyone," adding a poignant memory: "I never heard her end a conversation on the phone without saying `I love you,'" Pederson said.

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A cell phone conversation was the last time Sjodin's voice was heard, talking to her boyfriend, Chris Lang of Bloomington, Minn., when she was suddenly abducted in the parking lot of the shopping mall about 5 p.m., Nov. 22, authorities say. Her last words he heard were something like "OK, OK," likely to her abductor, Lang said.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., the 51-year-old convicted sex offender charged with her abduction is in jail awaiting a trial in Grand Forks District Court. He pleaded innocent to the charge. He is expected soon to face federal charges involving Sjodin's homicide.

But there was no mention of him Saturday.

Childhood The focus was on Dru. Slides of her from childhood, cavorting with her older brother, Sven, drew quiet laughter during the otherwise solemn service.

Her aunt, Carol Sutfin, told the mourners that she nicknamed her, "Princess," and watched her grow into a young woman who could make each aunt, each person, feel like her favorite.

"Aren't we blessed to have had her in our lives," Sutfin said.

Flight At the gravesite, 21 white-and-gray homing pigeons were released to fly overhead. Dru's mother, Linda Walker, released a white dove that flew over the casket and into the sky.

At baptism 22 years ago, the sign of the cross was made on Dru Sjodin, promising her a share in Christ's suffering and death, but also in the resurrection, the Rev. Anderson said as he stood at the casket. "Again we give Dru the sign of the cross."

She was buried along with the cremated remains of her much-loved dog, "Buddy."

Loved Dru and her family are loved widely, and it showed Saturday.

Dawn Celestine, Hudson, Wis., and Bobbie Pearson, River Falls, Wis. , drove three hours to the funeral because they once worked with Dru's cousin, Michael Sjodin, who helped carry her casket Saturday.

"We come for Mike," Celestine said. "He's been through it all."

NiCole Leagjeld, 21, a high school friend of Sjodin's, came to the cemetery with her parents, Donna and Dan Leagjeld, neighbors of Dru's mother, Linda Walker.

"We couldn't get into the funeral; there were so many people," NiCole said.

The Leagjeld family stopped first to visit the nearby gravesite of Michael, NiCole's younger brother, who died 14 years ago, only five days after birth.

"Parents shouldn't have to bury their kids," Dan Leagjeld said.

NiCole said the way that such a successful, popular person like Dru saw her life end is "scary," and has made her change the way she lives.

Hope But she also hopes Sjodin's death brings better changes.

"The way everyone responded to Dru's disappearance was amazing," NiCole Leagjeld said. "Why can't they do the same thing for Erika Dalquist from Brainerd? "

Dalquist disappeared 1 1/2 years ago in Brainerd and is feared dead.

Unusual were the numbers of law enforcement officers from agencies in North Dakota and Minnesota who attended the funeral. They included officers from Grand Forks and Crookston who worked the case.

"This is certainly a case that has touched everyone's hearts, ours included," said Crookston Police Chief Tim Motherway after he had paid his respects at Sjodin's casket. "Dru became everybody's adopted daughter."

His 14-officer force was one of more than 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that worked on Sjodin's abduction case.

Good Something good will come of Dru Sjodin's homicide, say Motherway and others who searched so long.

Bob Heales, the Denver private investigator who led the family's search effort, said he and Denny Adams, the South Dakota search dog expert, will be back to the Minnesota lakes county within a week or so to help a renewed search for Dalquist.

Erika Dalquist's mother attended the visitation for Sjodin on Friday in Crosslake Lutheran Church.

In his prayers at the end of the service Saturday, the Rev. Anderson prayed for "families still on that journey," that ended a week ago when Sjodin's body was found near Crookston. Anderson mentioned the families of Dalquist and of Jacob Wetterling, who was taken in 1989 near his St. Joseph, Minn., home.

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