Family of Slain Marine Grieves at Church Service
Posted January 14, 2008 9:05 p.m. EST
Updated January 15, 2008 1:03 a.m. EST
Vandalia, Ohio — Hometown friends and neighbors offered prayers Monday night for 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, a pregnant Marine who authorities believe was killed and buried near her base in North Carolina.
The Lauterbach family filed into a church for a prayer service and sat in the front row. Earlier in the day, federal authorities expanded a nationwide search for a fellow Marine wanted in the woman's slaying.
"This evening, we are suffering," the Rev. Francis Keferl told a spillover crowd of more than 800 at St. Christopher Catholic Church.
Maria's mother, Mary Lauterbach, dabbed her eyes with a tissue during the 40-minute service, and at one point was hugged by a sobbing woman.
Jeffrey Kay, 48, of Vandalia, a member of the congregation who knew the slain Marine, presented Mary Lauterbach with a pink rose.
"You could tell she was happy with life and everything and seemed to be the type that would make the right decisions at her age," Kay said of Maria, speaking before the service. "She had faith, which is a good thing."
On a table just outside the sanctuary was a makeshift memorial to the slain Marine. White Teddy bears, a yellow varsity letter, and school and family photos were displayed. Many of those attending the service pinned multicolored ribbons to their chests in remembrance of Lauterbach.
Authorities in North Carolina on Saturday recovered what they believed to be the burned remains of Lauterbach and her unborn child from a fire pit in the backyard of fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean.
Elise Wahle, youth ministry coordinator for the church, said parishioners remember Lauterbach for her strength, vitality, independent spirit, athletic talents and for being a Marine.
Keferl told the gathering that the mother of Jesus is the model for everyone.
"Through her intercession, we ask you to give consolation and strength to Maria's family and friends, especially in the difficult days and months ahead," he said.
Lauterbach disappeared sometime after December 14, not long after she met with military prosecutors to talk about her April allegation that Laurean raped her.
Reports of Lauterbach's disappearance and subsequent news of her death has dominated discussions in this suburban community 10 miles north of Dayton.
John Boggess, superintendent of the Miami Valley Career Technology Center where Lauterbach studied, said counselors were available Monday and that school representatives would attend the service.
"Our school has been shocked by the news," Boggess said.
Alex Smith, 17, said reports of the death spread quickly by text and online messages. He had known her because both attended church in the St. Christopher parish.
Others knew her through youth theater and other activities, including softball and soccer. She was a standout in both sports.
"Her goal was to be a Marine and wear the uniform," said neighbor Kent Zimmerman.
Lauterbach was described last week as "a tough girl" by Marine Staff Sgt. Sam Mao, a recruiter in Huber Heights, where she joined the Marines in 2006.
"She joined the Marine Corps for a big challenge," he said. "She was determined to succeed."
Mary Lauterbach has said the physical demands of the Marines appealed to her daughter and that she liked boot camp. Her father, Victor Lauterbach, is an Air Force Reserve master sergeant in the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, which is part of the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near here.
The couple adopted Maria as a baby. They have four other children.
Lauterbach was assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group of the II Marine Expeditionary Force. Laurean worked in the same unit, where both were personnel clerks.