TORONTO - Mourners bid their final farewells Saturday to a Toronto teen whose mysterious disappearance more than two years ago came to a grim conclusion late last month.
For many who gathered for Mariam Makhniashvili's funeral, the private ceremony brought some release after the long-lasting uncertainty surrounding her fate.
In some cases, it also offered the first glimpse of the 17-year-old's life beyond the headlines, they said.
"She was a very happy young girl, by the sounds of it, with many interests, be it literature, be it music," said Chris Parkin, a physical education teacher at Forest Hill Collegiate, where Makhniashivili briefly attended.
"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."
Rev. Jim McKnight said Makhniashvili's case "seemed to draw the people of Toronto together quite closely and brought out the best in people."
While the Makhniashvili family may never truly get closure, simply having the chance to honour Mariam may help them grapple with their grief, he said.
Makhniashvili's father was unable to attend the service after prison officials denied his request for a special permission, said lawyer Calvin Barry.
Vakhtang Makhniashvili 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.
"He wanted to be here, he wanted to be with his wife... to have some closure here today and complete the grieving process," Barry said.
Students from Makhniashvili's school said that though they didn't know her well, they felt a special bond with the girl whose story captured national attention.
"She's a part of our school, so she's a part of us," said one student who sang at the ceremony.
Another 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 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 two-and-a-half years, despite numerous tips and reported sightings from as far away as Alberta.
Late last month, skeletal remains were discovered near Highway 401 and Yonge Street, not far from a highway overpass.
Police later confirmed the body was Makhniashvili’s and said foul play wasn’t suspected.