ATHENS -- The church pews couldn’t hold everyone who came to pay respects to Meredith Emerson on Friday.
More than 400 mourners and well-wishers filled Central Presbyterian Church in Athens for an emotional memorial service for Emerson, the 24-year-old hiker who was slain a week earlier after being abducted from a Union County trail.
“Meredith’s light is reflected by you today, and the light outshines the darkness,” her mother, Susan Emerson, told the gathering. “The darkness doesn’t deserve our time or energy.”
Friends of Emerson, a University of Georgia graduate from Colorado who last lived in Buford, took to the podium to recall a bright, funny, spirited young woman who made friends easily.
“She was a firecracker,” Isaac Wolf said.
Cousin Jason Emerson read from a poem written by Emerson at age 14, prefacing it by saying, “I don’t think she would want us to be permanently bitter about what happened. She would want us to see the light in the darkness.”
Said roommate Julia Karrenbauer, “Meredith’s love shines down on you today.”
The Rev. Robert Bohler Jr. said Emerson’s ordeal had touched many lives across the country and the world. He recalled receiving an e-mail of prayer from Australia, and said, “I would not be at all surprised” if millions had prayed for Emerson.
Bohler asked that the prayers for Emerson’s family continue.
“Don’t stop now because of what has happened,” the reverend said. “Then the darkness will have won.”
Bohler said the trails of the Southeast were now safer.
“Meredith died so that others could live,” he said.
Susan Emerson thanked the hundreds of public safety workers who worked tirelessly to find her daughter. A large contingent of uniformed sheriff’s, police, fire and rescue workers from Gwinnett and Union counties were on hand.
District Attorneys Lee Darragh, Stan Gunter, GBI Special Agent John Cagle and Union County Sheriff Scott Stephens also attended the service, which ended with the singing of “Amazing Grace,” after a slide show of photographs that was accompanied by a woman singing and playing guitar.
Many of the hundreds who attended Friday’s memorial never met Emerson. One was Virginia Baker, the mother of slain University of Georgia law school student Tara Baker, whose 2001 murder remains unsolved. Tara Baker was killed in her Athens apartment the day before her 24th birthday.
“I felt like her life was lived the same as my daughter,” Virginia Baker said after the service. “Such a beautiful life, so full of promise. I felt I had to come here today to pray for their family, because I have walked this same road.”
Baker said Emerson “touched a lot of lives, the same as Tara. And I know they would have been great friends. I just like to think now that they can be.”