Almost two months after Los Angeles County Coroner's officials removed the bones of missing Fullerton College student Lynsie Ekelund from a shallow grave in Santa Clarita, a memorial service was held today for the 20-year-old Placentia woman.
Ekelund left her mother's Placentia home one evening in 2001 with a man named Christopher McAmis, ostensibly for a night of clubbing in San Diego.
It was the last time anyone saw her alive.
Faced with new evidence discovered by investigators from the Orange County District Attorney's office, McAmis confessed to strangling Ekelund that night and burying her corpse at a construction site he was working with his father, Richard.
More than 100 people packed into the Placentia Presbyterian Church on North Bradford Avenue. Pastor F. David Throop led the service from a small podium in front of a towering rock altar flanked by a large portrait of Ekelund from her days as an El Dorado High School student. Throop shared fond memories of Lynsie and described her as a girl with a smile "that could melt an iceberg."
During the nearly hour-and-a half memorial, others shared stories of the young girl, describing her as an animal lover with a kind, adventurous spirit.
Family friend Kimberly Keith, who met Ekelund while working as a noon supervisor at Friends Christian School in Yorba Linda, stood in front of the congregation and recalled a time when during her days as a noon supervisor at the private elementary school, she had forgotten to bring a sweater. She shivered in the cold as she watched the students during lunch. Suddenly, she felt two small hands reach around from behind and drape her shoulders in a tiny sweater. It was Lynsie. Keith broke down when and recalled Lynsie saying, "I can't stand to sit here and watch you shiver like this."
Though there were no direct references to McAmis during the service, when Lynsie's mother Nancy spoke, she mentioned that only one person knew what happened to Lynsie for all these years and added quietly, "he isn't here."
The service ended with a slide show featuring family photos of Ekelund at various stages in her life. The stream of images, featuring an ever-smiling Ekelund, were punctuated by the occasional photos of her lying unconscious in a hospital bed and hooked to tubes following a severe car accident when she was five. Quiet sobbing could be heard in the hall during the moving display.
Four uniformed officers from the Placentia Police Department sat in the front of the hall. Among them was Det. Corinne Loomis, who did much of the leg work in the nearly decade-long investigation, as well as Police Chief James L. Anderson. In the loft above the room, several television cameras were perched on the edge of the wooden railing capturing the entire event.
As family, friends and well wishers gathered with Nancy in the courtyard outside the church, two women who had known Lynsie in high school described their friend as a naive person who trusted too easily.
"She looked at the world as a 5-year-old girl," said Robyn McRoy, 32. "It was out there for her to experience." She and her sister, 30-year-old Krisitn Highfill, remembered occasionally meeting Ekelund at a coffee shop to find her chatting with strangers. But both remembered their friend as a girl brimming with compassion. Highfill explained Ekelund would obsessively donate blood to Placentia-Linda Hospital near her home. "She did it like it was a morning cup of coffee," Highfill said of Ekelund.
One time, Ekelund successfully convinced Highfill to join her in giving blood. Highfill recalled her diminutive friend, who was several pounds short of what the hospital required of blood donors, donning a large jacket filled with weights. Highfill passed out after giving blood that day. "And when I woke up surrounded by all the hospital people and the smelling salts," she recalled, "Lynsie was holding my hand."
Following the service, Ekelund's mother provided those in attendace with hundreds of refrigerator magnets embossed with images of her daughter as well as hand-made lollipops adorned with small tags which read, "When someone you love becomes a memory. Then the memory becomes a treasure."
According to LA County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter, Ekelund's remains have been released to the family. However, internment is planned for a later date and will be private.