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Funeral held for P.E.I. man killed in shootings at side of Alberta highway

12/22/2011 09:19 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST
WINSLOE, P.E.I. - The mother of a young man who was gunned down at the side of a highway in Alberta read a poem to her son at his funeral Thursday that included lines recalling home run glory.

Dianne MacLean spoke to about 600 people at the funeral — many of them ball players wearing team caps and holding baseballs — as Mitch's father Irwin, also a baseball player and a coach, gently held her.

Her poem titled "Last Time at the Plate" described Mitch's battle with a pitcher that ends with him stroking a fast ball into the bleachers and rounding the bases into the arms of his teammates.

MacLean's verse made mourners smile as she took a playful dig at an umpire. It ended with a heartrending farewell to her son.

"The game is now over. You must pack up your gear. We know you'll keep playing. It's just not going to be here," MacLean said.

"Love you, Mitchie," she said as many in the congregation — including dozens of former teammates from Alberta and Prince Edward Island — wept openly.

The funeral for MacLean, who was 20, was held in a United Church on the outskirts of Charlottetown.

He was one of four young people shot last week by Derek Jensen, just north of the town of Claresholm, before Jensen killed himself.

Police have said the shootings were motivated by Jensen's recent breakup with a young woman in the vehicle, Tabitha Stepple, who was remembered at a funeral service on Wednesday in Lethbridge.

MacLean and Tanner Craswell, who was 22 and also from P.E.I., were baseball players studying at Lethbridge College. They played for the Lethbridge Bulls, who sent a delegation of players to help carry their teammate's casket.

The two men were on their way to the airport to return home for the holidays when they were shot.

In the funeral program, MacLean's family expressed their gratitude for the community support they have received and thanked coaches in Alberta and Prince Edward Island who helped develop the skills of the young men.

"Words cannot adequately express the debt of thanks we owe to so many who have surrounded us with love and supported and comforted us in countless ways this week," they said in the funeral program.

Throughout the church there were reminders of Christmas, ranging from a brightly lit tree in one corner and advent candles in the windows.

Rev. Eric Lynk acknowledged the contrast between the hope represented by the Christian season of advent and the darkness of the murder suicide in Alberta. He said the kindness shown the MacLeans and a nationwide outpouring of support is the way to respond.

"Maybe because it is Christmas we can draw on our faith and because of that we can find the joy and love to face tomorrow and all of the tomorrows that lie ahead," he said.

Police have said 21-year-old Shayna Conway, who was badly injured in the shootings, was driving Stepple's car on the night of the shootings. The women were taking Craswell, who was Conway's boyfriend, and MacLean to the airport.

MacLean and Craswell were promising baseball stars with the Bulls of the Western Major Baseball League. MacLean was named rookie of the year and Craswell was an all-star shortstop.

Former coaches have said MacLean was among the best players from the Island, playing for the 2009 Canada Summer Games team, and for four years with the Island select team. He had just signed a letter of intent with a college team in the United States.

Amidst the grieving for the two young men, there are fundraisers underway to support Conway and her medical costs.

Conway's former co-workers at a fruit drink restaurant in Charlottetown have been donating their tips to the young woman's family.

"Everyone is coming out and showing great support," Alyssa Farrar, the manager of the Juice Zone, said in an interview. "Everyone loves her. She's strong, she's beautiful."

She said the young women who work at the restaurant wanted to find a way to react positively to an incident that left them feeling vulnerable and frightened.

"It was scary. ... I didn't believe it at first but we're slowly going to try and get through it. We're all here for each other," she said.

"It proves how much of a family Prince Edward Island is. Everyone comes together as soon as something like this happens. It just took hours to start doing things for the boys, and things for Shayna."

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