GAHANNA, Ohio – Mourners carried sunflowers and baseballs as they left a visitation service Tuesday for a mother and son who were stabbed to death and dismembered in central Ohio, and a family friend who died with them was remembered as full of life and always smiling.
Friends of Tina Herrmann and her 11-year-old son, Kody Maynard, said there were two closed caskets and mounds of flowers at the service at a church in Gahanna, about 40 miles southwest of their home in Howard, where they were killed Nov. 10. The baseballs bore Kody's name and dates of birth and death.
A co-worker of Herrmann said that among those in the reception line was Herrmann's 13-year-old daughter, Sarah Maynard, who was reported missing on the day of the killings, along with her mother, brother and family friend Stephanie Sprang. The girl was found bound and gagged in the basement of a home in Mount Vernon, about 10 miles from the site of the stabbings, four days before the remains of the others were discovered hidden in a hollow tree.
"She was being very, very strong," said Teresa Partlow, 32, of Walhonding. "I couldn't imagine being that strong."
Outside a crowded funeral home in Mount Vernon, cars were parked on both sides of the street for a couple of blocks as evening visitation for Sprang began.
Mourners looked at photo and video montages of Sprang, 41, as a girl with a baton, in high school with friends, in her wedding dress, serving birthday cake to one of her children, singing karaoke with her father and laughing as she was buried in sand on a beach.
Sprang collected miniature lighthouses as a hobby, and a memorial card and the slideshow both featured images of her with a lighthouse.
Among the mourners earlier in the day was Sheriff David Barber, whose office handled the search for the missing.
Another mourner, Randall Alicie, who saw Sprang three or four times a month at the karaoke concerts he puts on in bars and clubs in Knox County, said she was fond of rock and party songs and often sang "Summer Nights" as a duet with her father.
"She was always smiling. Always having a good time. Never seen her down," said Alicie. "She was a character, a real character. Full of life. Enjoyed living."
Dee Hall said she wanted to pay her respects for the victims, the youngest of whom attended school with her grandson.
"It's part of the healing process for this community," she said. "We don't experience stuff like this every day here. I'd like to believe that something this horrific has brought this community closer together."
Subtle signs of the community's reaction to the slayings dot the small city.
"Our Prayers Are With The Families," read a sign at a Hardee's restaurant up the street from the funeral home. A sign at a nearby Dairy Queen where Sprang worked listed the names of Sarah and Sprang's children and said "We love you."
The search for the four began after authorities said an unusual amount of blood was found Nov. 11 in the home of the 32-year-old Herrmann, where Sprang had been visiting.
Officials said Sarah Maynard was found three days later in the home of Matthew Hoffman and that he later gave information that led investigators to the remains of the others in a wildlife preserve. Hoffman, a 30-year-old unemployed tree-cutter, has been charged with one count of kidnapping and is being held in the Knox County jail on $1 million bond.
Authorities say he is the only suspect in the killings, but he has not been charged in the deaths. His attorney has declined comment.
Authorities have not speculated on a motive. The sheriff has suggested that Hoffman, who spent six years in a Colorado prison for arson and other charges, had been watching them for some time.
The families of Herrmann and Maynard issued a statement to members of the media at the start of visitation on Tuesday, thanking law enforcement, members of the community, relatives, friends and others.
"We wish to take a moment to thank the nation for the outpouring of love, prayers and support that you all continue to provide," the statement said. "To the residents of Knox County who grieve with us as well, we would like to share that all of you who are touched by this tragedy, whether directly or indirectly, are in our hearts and prayers."
The family also offered paper baseballs on which mourners could draw or write memories or condolences.
Herrmann was remembered by friends as full of laughter and life, and Partlow called her a "joker" who would flick rubber bands at work and sing "Leaving on a Jet Plane."
She said she has lost sleep since the four were first reported missing, and that when she pulls into work at Dairy Queen she still expects to see Herrmann's truck in the parking lot.
"It's like a really bad nightmare that I haven't woken up from," she said. "We don't understand why something like this happened. It just doesn't make sense."
In Mount Vernon, Dairy Queen manager Valerie Haythorn, who alerted police to the blood in Herrmann's home after she didn't show up for work, said the restaurant would be closed during the day Wednesday so employees could attend funerals.
About 10 miles away in the community near where Herrmann lived, purple ribbons hung from mailboxes and light posts. At her house, there was little outward sign of an overnight porch fire, which authorities were investigating as suspicious. Some strips of siding to the right of the front door were buckling slightly.
A makeshift memorial remained at a tree in her yard where people had placed purple balloons, white crosses, several stuffed bears, candles and a wind chime. "Watch Over the Maynard Family," read a handwritten sign on the tree.
Welsh-Huggins reported from Mount Vernon.