NEWS

Mourners pay tribute to Toronto teen Makhniashvili

03/23/2012 06:34 EDT | Updated 05/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Mourners gathered Friday at a Toronto funeral home to pay their final respects to Mariam Makhniashvili, the Toronto teen whose remains were discovered last month after she had been missing for 2½ years.

Friday's gathering was for members of the public and comes ahead of a more private family service set for Saturday afternoon.

Messages of sympathy are being collected in a book at Forest Hill Collegiate, where the 17-year-old went to school briefly before her disappearance in 2009.

Principal Peggy Aitchison sent an email to students this week encouraging them to attend the memorial or write comforting words to her family.

Though Makhniashvili's classmates have long graduated, Aitchison said the school has a special bond with the girl whose story captured national attention.

"This young woman who went missing really was embraced by this city, in terms of the care and concern and worry and so on," Aitchison said.

"I think it speaks a lot to our collective humanity in this country that someone who is a stranger to the country, to people, that so many people in the country ... cared about her and wanted the best outcome for her," she said.

CBC's Kimberly Gale was among a handful of members of the media who attended Friday's visitation.

Gale reported that in attendance were people unknown to the family who "feel compelled to reach out."

"There are a few small bouquets of flowers as well as a small wooden urn and a framed photograph of a smiling Mariam," Gale reported.

About 95 people are expected to attend Saturday's funeral.

Father denied permission to attend

Makhniashvili's father, Vakhtang Makhniashvili, has been denied permission to attend the funeral, but his lawyer says he is fighting the decision.

He is serving a six-year jail term after pleading guilty last year to three counts of aggravated assault after two separate stabbing incidents, one involving a neighbour and the other a couple who had posted his bail.

Makhniashvili had been in Toronto only three months, and in school only four days, when she went missing on Sept. 14, 2009.

The case baffled authorities for 2½ years, despite numerous tips and reported sightings from as far away as Alberta.

The only real clue that emerged was the discovery of Mariam's backpack and some school books in a parking lot not far from her school the month after she went missing. Then, in late February, skeletal remains were discovered near Highway 401 and Yonge Street, not far from the highway overpass.

Police later confirmed the remains were Makhniashvili's and said foul play wasn't suspected.

While they wouldn't go as far as ruling her death a suicide, police have suggested she may have been depressed.

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