A gathering outside the family home of Audrey Seiler (search) turned into a community celebration Wednesday night as family and friends gave thanks that the missing college student had been found alive and well.
A crowd of about 150 people filled the driveway and spilled into the street for what started as a candlelight vigil and ended as a pizza party.
Seiler, who attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison (search), was abducted Saturday after leaving her off-campus apartment. She was found Wednesday afternoon in a marsh near campus. Police released few details about Seiler's ordeal but did say they were searching for a suspect.
After lighting candles, the crowd said the Lord's Prayer and then sang the campfire standard Kumbaya with the verses changed to fit the occasion: "Audrey's safe, my Lord. Kumbaya."
Several of those gathered had been to Madison (search) in recent days to help with the search. They thanked the community of Rockford for its support.
Brandon Hartman, a friend of Audrey's younger brother Kyle, said he spoke to him just before the vigil. He said Kyle told him the family was doing well.
Hartman, one of several students at Rockford High School who helped search in Madison, said it had been a difficult time for Kyle and the rest of the family.
"He had his moments," Hartman said, but they took him to the gym and otherwise tried to keep him occupied. "That did the trick most of the time."
After several friends of the family spoke, the gathering turned into a celebration. The local Domino's sent over free pizzas and the Rockford Fire Department brought a ladder truck that hoisted an American flag high above the neighborhood.
Earlier Wednesday, news that the 20-year-old was alive raced through her hometown, and rejoicing residents took down missing-person posters.
People in this small town about 30 miles west of the Twin Cities said they were relieved and surprised that Seiler was found so long after Saturday's disappearance.
"I think everyone's just shocked that she showed up after what happened to Dru Sjodin," said Nate Rivera, a supervisor at the Phillips 66 Quick Shop, who referred to another high-profile disappearance of a young Minnesota woman.
The latest disappearance hit a little too close to home for Carissa Cichon, who baby-sat Seiler.
"With all that stuff with that Dru Sjodin, it was a relief," she said.
Cichon, director of the Rock-A-Bye daycare center, said she received three calls from friends and relatives telling her that Seiler was alive. Cichon immediately snapped on her radio, desperate to hear more.
A few hours before the gathering, next-door neighbor Marianne Kraft busily attached large yellow ribbons to a tree in the Seiler family's front yard. Ribbons also lined the mailboxes and fence posts along the cul-de-sac near the home.
Kraft said she was glad that things turned out for the best rather than the worst. "All the other missing persons and abductions have been the worst," she said.
At Rockford High School, students were told the news via loudspeaker. Assistant Principal Kathy Ungerecht said her staff was overjoyed. There were "some hugs, some tears, some jumping up and down," she said.
Ungerecht, a Seiler family friend, went to Madison on Sunday to help look for Audrey, search her apartment building and support the family.
"Many more were planning to go this weekend," she said. "Thank goodness they don't have to."
Rivera said that Seiler's disappearance had been a shock to the town even though it happened so far away.
"A lot of people out here sleep with their doors open," he said. "That's probably not going to happen much longer, even though it happened in Wisconsin. Other than that, everyone's ecstatic."