Roughly 1,000 people came together in Lethbridge, Alta., Saturday afternoon to celebrate the lives of three young people cut short by an act of violence.
The baseball-themed memorial was held at the Enmax Centre for the victims who were shot dead on an Alberta highway last month near Claresholm.
Tanner Craswell, Mitch MacLean and Tabitha Stepple were gunned down in mid-December by Stepple's ex-boyfriend Derek Jensen, who then turned the gun on himself.
The only survivor — 21-year-old Shayna Conway — is still recovering from her injuries.
Conway was at the memorial alongside the families of the victims.
Conway, who prepared a video statement because she has difficulties moving around, said she is slowly recovering.
“I’m so grateful for all the love and support my family and I have received from so many people,” she said, adding some of whom were strangers.
Conway said she is looking forward to going home as soon as she can.
Families of both MacLean and Craswell travelled to Alberta from P.E.I. for the ceremony.
Keith Craswell, Tanner’s dad, said his son was always able to appreciate the kindness shown to him by others.
“He appreciated it ... every bit of it,” he said.
Dianne MacLean, Mitch’s mother, read a poem that she had written for her son’s funeral. It was called Last Time at the Plate, and talked about her son's passion and love of baseball.
She also said the hospitality shown to her in Lethbridge was outstanding.
“You treated us like royalty,” she said. “We knew Mitch loved it here in Lethbridge.”
Craswell and MacLean were considered rising baseball stars and played for the Lethbridge Bulls, so the ceremony was themed around their sport.
“It’s a nine-inning baseball game — a different type of tribute every inning and each inning has a theme,” said Kevin Kvame, Lethbridge Bulls president and general manager.
Kvame was busy preparing for the memorial Friday by sorting through memorabilia that will be set up to honour the victims.
“I think it's helped because we've been able to stay focused on that and not so much on the event and start to remember them for the good times that we had,” he said.
During the memorial, Kvame said the tragedy has “shook us all to the core” but it has brought their baseball family closer together — forever connecting everyone, including friends and family in P.E.I.
Funeral services were already held for both 20-year-old MacLean and 22-year-old Craswell in their hometowns in P.E.I., but Lethbridge is where the two lived, went to school and played ball.
A funeral was also held for 21-year-old Stepple in Lethbridge.
“There are a lot of people here who didn't have a chance to pay their respects, so that's a reason we're having this memorial — give them a chance to bring a sense of closure to this event,” said Kvame.
More than just baseball players
Teammates of Craswell and MacLean were also on hand from three different teams they had played for during the last few years.
“We are just out here to grieve together,” said teammate Austin Cooper. “Kind of a service for the people who couldn’t attend the service or get out to P.E.I. ... a way for everyone to see past the other side of what's happened.”
During the memorial, Lethbridge Bulls coach Scott Rhodes said that the two young men were not just his players, but part of his family.
“We were truly blessed to have these two young men in our lives.... We love you boys and you are missed,” he said.
And in true sports player fashion, at the end of the ceremony, the Lethbridge Bulls honoured the two players by raising their jerseys to the rafters — retiring MacLean's No. 6 and Craswell's No. 13.
One large "inning" was in memory of Stepple.
In the tribute, Stepple’s cousin Kerrie Wendorff Karaca said the 21-year-old had a genuine love for her family.
“We will keep you close in our hearts,” she said.
Randy Stepple, Tabitha’s dad, said she seemed to spread love to everyone.
“She was usually the spark that changed the mood of any family gathering to a more positive note,” Randy said as he tried to hold back tears.
He said the family is thankful for all the thoughts and prayers that came in from friends and family across the country.
Tabitha’s mother Renae Stepple, who appeared to be overcome with emotion, was surrounded by her children as she said that words could not say enough about her daughter.
“Mostly I want to tell Tabitha I love her and am so proud of her,” she said.
Mourners also gather in P.E.I.
The memorial service was streamed live to about 65 people who gathered at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
The tragedy strongly impacted the community and many attended a memorial game of catch at Craswell and MacLean’s former high school in December.
Craswell, MacLean and Conway were all from the Charlottetown area.
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