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Simple white casket for young woman shot by ex-boyfriend on Alberta highway

12/21/2011 04:35 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - A young woman gunned down by her jealous ex-boyfriend on the side of a dark southern Alberta highway was remembered Wednesday as a vibrant and fearless role model.

Tabitha Stepple, 21, was one of four young people shot last week by Derek Jensen, just north of the town of Claresholm, before he killed himself. One woman survived.

More than 850 mourners at Stepple's funeral in Lethbridge watched as Stepple's simple white casket, covered in flowers, was wheeled into the church. Her pet terrier, Mya, was an honorary pallbearer.

"Tabitha was incredibly full of life. She carried herself well," said her sister Teresa Kleinfeld, her brothers Nelson and Trevor Stepple, standing one on each side of her. "She stood up for herself and for what she knew to be right and what she believed in.

"She was many things to many different people."

Younger brother Nelson remembered a big sister who always watched over him from the day he was born.

"Tabitha we love you. We will always miss you. We will never forget you and we will carry you in our hearts always," he said.

Her mother Renae Stepple wept as she read from an inspirational poem.

"I'm everything you feel, see or hear. My spirit is free, but I'll never depart as long as you keep me alive in your heart," read the poem.

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

Pastor Ian Lawson, one of two ministers officiating, acknowledged that many people would want to know how such violence could cut short such a promising life.

"Any attempts to answer will seem hollow and trivial at a time like this. The questions are real and they are appropriate," he said.

"I know this feels just so tragically wrong. Our kids are not supposed to go before us."

Many in the church wept openly. A book of remembrance included photos of Stepple from the time she was a baby to just before her death. She seemed to be smiling in all of them. Under one photo was pencilled "brown-haired Barbie."

A video of her hamming it up inside her car, dancing to the beat of a popular song and mugging for the camera caused some laughter along with the tears.

Mya sat quietly in the arms of a family member throughout the service. Stepple's cousins performed three lullabies that her mother used to sing to her.

"We live in a dark world and the events of the past week have been a powerful reminder of that darkness in this community," added Pastor Steve Bateman, who urged the family not to lose faith.

He also asked that prayers be said for victims Tanner Craswell, 22, and his 20-year-old friend Mitch MacLean — two promising baseball players from Prince Edward Island, who had moved to Lethbridge to hone their skills. They were on their way to the airport to return home for the holidays when they died.

Bateman said he hoped that Shayna Conway, who remains in hospital after surgery for gunshot wounds, makes a full recovery. She and Stepple were driving the two players to the airport when the car was rammed from behind by Jensen.

He was not mentioned during the service.

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