MARYVILLE, Mo. – Four days before Christmas, a stunned community braved a cold northwest Missouri wind to say goodbye to Bobbie Jo Stinnett (search), the young mother-to-be who was strangled and had her baby cut from her womb.
Hundreds — many in cowboy boots and blue jeans — streamed into Price Funeral Home in Maryville on Tuesday afternoon to mourn the loss of a 23-year-old woman who had grown up in Skidmore, a northwest Missouri town of about 340 residents.
"There's no way to express my feelings," said Carl Montgomery, who had driven both Bobbie Jo and Zeb Stinnett in his school bus when they were students in the Nodaway-Holt School District.
"I've known her since she was a baby," he said. "She grew up into a beautiful swan."
The Rev. Harold Hamon, who married the Stinnetts in spring 2003 at the Skidmore Christian Church, spoke at the funeral.
"I don't know what to say," Hamon told mourners. "This is one of those times where you can't figure it out at all and words fail."
Lisa M. Montgomery (search), of Melvern, Kan., who authorities say planned to meet Stinnett on Thursday to see the rat terrier dogs that she bred, faces a federal charge of kidnapping resulting in death.
The baby, Victoria Jo, was found Friday in Melvern, Kan., in good health.
Friends said Montgomery, 36, showed the baby off as her own Friday morning in Melvern in the hours before she was arrested in Stinnett's death.
"I've never been so ashamed of my name in my life," said Carl Montgomery, who has no relation to Lisa Montgomery.
Six days before Stinnett was killed, Lisa Montgomery's ex-husband filed a motion in Kansas' Osage County District Court seeking custody for two of the four children they had together before they divorced in New Mexico in 1998.
Carl Boman, who lives in Oklahoma, said in his Dec. 10 motion that the two middle children — ages 15 and 16 — had expressed a desire to live with him and "are having difficulty with the natural mother." A third child, age 14, had not indicated he wanted to live with Boman, while the oldest will be able to make her own decisions when she turns 18 in January, according to the motion.
Judge Phillip M. Fromme issued an emergency order Saturday granting Boman temporary custody of all four children, "as the Mother has been arrested in Missouri for Murder." A final hearing on the change of custody is set for Jan. 25.
The children have remained in Melvern with their stepfather, Kevin Montgomery, since their mother's arrest. Kevin Montgomery also has three other children from a previous marriage.
Kay Salisbury, 64, of Melvern, told The Associated Press that she felt "so sorry" for Lisa Montgomery's children.
"I know that the family in Missouri is grieving, and I grieve for them, but Lisa's children are wonderful kids. They've made good choices, and they've been a good influence on this community," Salisbury said.
In Skidmore on Tuesday, more than 100 people huddled together in front of a large blue funeral tent where Stinnett's golden casket was to be buried. They shivered in the steady, biting wind as Hamon led the shell-shocked group in prayer.
After the service, Bill Dragoo recalled Stinnett and her husband, who lived about a half block from him.
"There are not enough words to tell you how good of people they really were," said Dragoo, 52, who helped construct Stinnett's dog kennel. "The community is 100 percent behind them. Everybody knew how good of people they were."
The FBI would not comment on whether Stinnett and Montgomery had met before Thursday. But a Nebraska dog trainer who planned to attend the funeral said the two women had chatted on the Internet and attended the same dog shows, including one in April in Abilene, Kan.
The two were even photographed together at the dog show in Abilene, said Nancy Strudl, of Omaha, Neb.
Strudl also said Stinnett "stood up" for Lisa Montgomery, whom Strudl accused of misrepresenting the pedigree of dogs she sold and photos taken by others as her own.
"She said, 'Maybe it was just a misunderstanding,"' Strudl said. "She was so trusting and she convinced them to give (Montgomery) another chance."
Montgomery told people she was pregnant but some breeders were skeptical because she "never gained an ounce," Strudl said.
"She told us all she was pregnant with twins, and about a month and a half ago her messages were 'I lost one of the twins. It's so terrible, but they saved one twin,"' Strudl said. "We didn't believe she was pregnant. I don't know how she fooled her family and community."