NEWS

Funeral held for Toronto teen Makhniashvili

03/24/2012 01:47 EDT | Updated 05/24/2012 05:12 EDT

A funeral was held in Toronto on Saturday for Mariam Makhniashvili, the Toronto teen whose remains were discovered last month after she had been missing for 2½ years.

The 17-year-old Georgian immigrant made national headlines after she disappeared in September of 2009.

Her remains were found in late February in a ravine near Yonge Street and Hwy. 401.

About 95 people were expected to attend the private ceremony, including police officers from the local division that investigated her disappearance, as well as the principal and choir from Forest Hill Collegiate, the high school Mariam attended for only four days.

Rev. Jim McKnight said the search for Makhniashvili "seemed to draw the people of Toronto together quite closely."

Speaking before the service, he said that while the family may never get closure, simply having the chance to honour Mariam can be "helpful."

'It speaks ... to our collective humanity'

Peggy Aitchison, principal of Forest Hill Collegiate, said Friday that Makhniashvili was "a wonderful student, a person who was highly introspective and highly sensitive and very intuitive."

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.

Chris Parkin, a physical education teacher at Forest Hill Collegiate, said Makhniashvili seemed to be a happy young girl with many interests including literature and music.

"It was just nice, I think, for everyone and many of us who did not really know her to hear about that happy childhood," he said after the service.

"I think there's a sense with a lot of people that there's some closure…so there's a certain amount of relief with that."

Student Irving Castro said Makhniashvili has left her mark on the school even though her stay there was fleeting.

The service "was a little emotional, but we managed to get through," he said afterward.

Makhniashvili's father, Vakhtang Makhniashvili, was denied permission to attend the funeral.

He is serving a six-year jail term at Millhaven Penitentiary 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.

Strangers attend visitation

At a visitation on Friday, a small but steady stream of mourners paid their respects as they greeted Mariam's mother and brother — Lela Tabidze and George Makhniashvili.

Mohammad Atieque showed up to pay his respects Friday despite never having met the young girl.

"Irrespective of the faith, irrespective of the race, we are Canadian. We support each other."

Mariam 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, 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, the skeletal remains were discovered.

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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