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Family and friends remember Alberta highway murder victim

Pallberarers carry the casket at Tabitha Stepple's funeral at the Evangelical Free Church in Lethbridge, Alta., on Wednesday.

David Rossiter/The Canadian Press

Tabitha Stepple was remembered Wednesday as a shy and loving toddler who blossomed into an outgoing, determined, "brown-haired Barbie."

"Tabitha was incredibly full of life," said older sister, Teresa Kleinfeld, her arms embracing Ms. Stepple's two other siblings as they delivered the eulogy at the murder victim's funeral in Lethbridge. "She carried herself well. She stood up for herself and for what she knew to be right and what she believed in."

The 21-year-old was shot to death last week by her former boyfriend, who also killed Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean, two up-and-coming baseball players originally from Prince Edward Island. Mr. Craswell's girlfriend, Shayna Conway, was seriously wounded in the Dec. 15 attack on a darkened southern Alberta highway, just north of Claresholm.

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Derek Jensen rammed Ms. Stepple's vehicle, which was carrying the group of friends bound for the Calgary airport where the young men planned to catch a flight home for Christmas. After the massacre, Mr. Jensen shot himself to death.

Steve Bateman, one of two pastors who officiated the hour-long service at the Evangelical Free Church in front of 850 mourners, offered condolences to the MacLeans and the Craswells, as well as well-wishes to Ms. Conway for a fast and full recovery. There was no mention of Mr. Jensen or his family.

"We live in a dark world and the events of the past week have been a powerful reminder of that darkness in this community," Mr. Bateman told congregants.

Pastor Ian Lawson acknowledged that there are those who will want to know why this tragedy occurred at all.

"Any attempts to answer will seem hollow and trivial at a time like this," he said, "The questions are real and they are appropriate. We're here to support the Stepple family at this time of unimaginable grief."

Ms. Stepple was recalled as a typical teenager who once threw a massive house party, had slipped out with boys and did doughnuts in a parking lot. She was a dancer and a snowboarder. She once was afraid of clowns, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. She enjoyed holidays at the family cabin in the mountains.

She was mature beyond her years and persuasive – so persuasive that after three days of pestering her father Randy for a dog, Mya, a tiny terrier, came into their lives. Cradled in the arms of a friend, Mya acted as an honorary pallbearer.

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Ms. Stepple's mother, Renae, tearfully recited the poem I'm Everyplace to her daughter.

"I loved my Tabitha so much," she said, weeping, "I just want to thank you all for coming here to be with Tabitha."

Ms. Stepple was remembered as fiercely protective of her little brother, Nelson.

"We will always miss you," he said to his big sister, "We will never forget you and we will carry you in our hearts always."

Before the white casket, adorned with pink gerbera daisies, was whisked from the church, mourners watched a brief video that Ms. Stepple took of herself.

A cellphone camera placed on a vehicle dashboard captures a confident young woman grooving to the music and mugging for the camera.

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And for a few minutes, everyone laughed.

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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