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Hundreds Gather to Celebrate Life of Elizabeth Collins

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa As they have all along, the people turned out for Elizabeth Collins. Hundreds waited in line to speak to and comfort the girl's family members during a visitation preceding the Life and Love of Elizabeth Celebration at Heartland Vineyard Church on Thursday.

Beginning five months ago when Elizabeth, 8, and her cousin Lyric Morrissey-Cook, 10, disappeared while riding bikes in Evansdale, family members, friends and people in the community and beyond have answered the call, first to help search for the missing girls, then to raise funds and attend events to show their support.

On Thursday, they turned out en masse. 1,500 people attended the worship service and celebration inside the church's auditorium.

The pillars at the entrance of the church bore large pink bows, a common sight since the girls went missing. Tables full of mementos from Elizabeth's life were on display, including toys, clothing, birthday cards, photographs and newspaper clippings. A harpist played music from the stairwell landing.

Drew and Heather Collins greeted visitors, offering hugs and a few words for two hours before the service. They took up their posts again after the service, as they were unable to greet everyone who was in line.

Some were close friends of the Collins'. Others, like Millie Mumm of Hudson, didn't know the family. "Heather spoke at our church," she said. "She was very inspirational. She touched a lot of us."

"I hate to say this is how God works," Mumm said. " ... Taking two young girls."

Others have known the family only a short time. Addonis Hill, the father of Donnisha Hill who was murdered in 2006, connected with the family through their shared experiences. As Hill reached Drew Collins at the head of the line, he hugged him tightly and spoke for a few minutes.

Inside the auditorium, photos of Elizabeth flashed on large screens above the sanctuary photos of a soundly sleeping infant, a chubby-cheeked toddler and a playful young girl.

The front of the auditorium was decorated with lit Christmas trees and colorful flower arrangements. A large portion of seats, set aside for family members, was cordoned off with pink ribbon.

"Tonight we are here to celebrate such a young life, but such an incredible life," said Pastor Chris Reeves.

Heather Collins addressed those gathered, reading Bible passages, remembering her daughter and consoling those in attendance. "You guys have just got to realize she is in a better place," she said.

The bulk of the service was taken up by Heartland Vineyard's Worship Team performing Christian music. Guests swayed and sang along, many with their arms stretched upward.

"The service was absolutely amazing," Heather Collins said. "Seeing all the people that were there, it was overwhelming. "It was just exactly what I had imagined her celebration to be, and even more," she said. "I know she was there the whole entire time. She was there. I just got this warm feeling over me through the entire service. She was there. She is still here."

The girls' grandmother, Wylma Cook, along with Lyric's mother, Misty Morrissey, and aunt, Tammy Brousseau, are planning a service for Lyric after Christmas --- possibly in January.

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