WENDOVER — Friends and family of 16-year-old Micaela "Mickie" Costanzo didn't gather to say "goodbye" on Tuesday, but rather to say, "see you later."
An entire community gathered to honor a young girl whose smile could light up a room. They gathered to remember Mickie's spunk. They remembered her athleticism. They remembered what a great student she was. Family members talked about her big heart. And they gathered to make sure that Mickie was never forgotten.
Micaela, a West Wendover High School student, was found buried in a shallow grave in the desert five miles outside of town on March 3. A fellow student and former boyfriend, Kody Patton, 18, has been charged with murder in her death.
On Tuesday, it was standing-room only at the Peppermill Concert Hall where family members, friends, local residents and officers from the Wendover Police Department attended her funeral service. The start of school was delayed for students until noon so they could attend the funeral.
In memory of Micaela, many in attendance wore lime green, her favorite color. Some had T-shirts that said, "In Loving Memory, Micaela Rae Costanzo" at the top, a picture of Micaela inside a heart in the middle, and 1994-2011 at the bottom.
Three large screens were used to show pictures of Micaela throughout the funeral service. Many of the photographs were of her time running for the high school track team and playing on the girl's basketball team.
Micaela was born May 3 in Elko. She was the youngest of six girls. Many of her sisters spoke at the funeral service, all of them wiping away tears as they spoke of fond memories of her life. Micaela's sisters cried as they talked about how they never got to say goodbye, and asked the audience to never forget their youngest sibling.
"You were my rock, and I was yours," said sister Kristina Sweat. "I never got to thank you. ... Even at 16, you were the strongest person I've ever known. Even when days got hard, you never gave up, you never quit. I love you more than words can say. When I look up, I'll always see you."
Sweat's young daughter, Alexis, attempted to read a prepared talk about how her aunt Micaela would help her with homework. She talked about how recently Micaela had helped her with her science fair project that was selected to move on to the county competition this Thursday.
It was at that point that the tears took over and Alexis had to have her mother finish her talk. Her note to Micaela was signed, "Mini you."
Family members talked about Micaela's athletic ability and how ironic it was that the girl who was stubborn when it came time to learn how to walk became a track star. They remembered how she excelled in school and was editor of the school paper. They also remembered her dry wit and how she was able to come up with "awesome smart remarks."
Delicia "DJ" Costanzo, another of Micaela's sisters," recalled the times they'd go tobogganing at their grandparents' ranch and how Micaela hit the fence at the bottom of the hill. The second time, she ducked to avoid the fence and kept sliding. When DJ told her the only way to get back up was to walk, "She said, '(Forget) that,' and called grandpa to pick her up."
Family members also recalled the pranks Micaela used to pull on DJ, even when she was 2.
"What hurts the most is I never got to say goodbye to her," DJ said. "It really means a lot that all of you came here. ... Never let the memory of her die."
Micaelea's oldest sister, Kim Costanzo, called her compassionate, charismatic, beautiful and innocent. She recalled how Micaela was very picky about the consistency of her mac-and-cheese, and how one of her favorite meals was a pot pie and Marie Calendars.
The way Micaela put on and wore her track shoes was the way she lived her life, Costanzo said: "Look out world, here I come and you better get out of my way."
"You may have been taken from us, but you will never leave us," Kim Costanzo said.
Micaela's mother, Celia Costanzo, did not speak at the service, but sat closest to the podium and often offered a tissue or consoling hug to her daughters to help them get through their speeches.
Several coaches and faculty members of West Wendover High School also spoke to the audience, giving memories of Micaela in school and on the track field and basketball court.
"She was our anchor," said Brian Kelly.
Micaela's "infectious smile" could make anyone's bad day get better, one coach recalled. Others called her a "natural leader," the "go-to girl" and an "amazing person."
"She was the student every teacher dreams of, the athlete you love to mentor and the friend everyone needs. We need more people like Micaela," said Justin Evans. "I hope I can live up to her expectations, her standards and share the things she has taught me."
School officials also announced the "Mickie Spirit of Friendship Award and Scholarship" during the ceremony.
Emotional words were also given by Micaela's father, Teddy Costanzo.
"I loved her. She was my baby. Someone took her. Someone had no right to do that, and that matter will be taken care of later."
Two pastors, one from the local San Felipe Catholic Church and the other from the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake, recited scriptures and the Lord's Prayer, one in English followed by the other in Spanish.
Several musical selections by students and family members were given throughout the service, singing a selection of Micaela's favorite songs.
Following a reception at the Nugget Casino, a private funeral was held for immediate friends and family.