WATERLOO, Iowa It's a hard road and the way forward is uncertain, but the Saturday burial of Elizabeth Collins showed support for her family has not faded.
Nearly 200 people attended the burial of Collins, more than 9 months after she went missing from Evansdale.
"What we are going through today, we're not sure how it goes. We try, we keep going, we hope, we persevere, we walk on," said Pastor Chris Reeves at the ceremony.
It wasn't a day that will end anything for Elizabeth's parents, Drew and Heather Collins. It's another event they no longer have to plan, but it's just one more step in their path. Heather Collins believes the burial is a more crucial step for Elizabeth's siblings Kelly, Amber and Callie.
"I think this is important for them, this is more for closure for them. For us, I don't think there will be closure until the person is found, really," Heather said after the service.
Elizabeth Collins and her cousin, Lyric Cook-Morrissey, ages 9 and 10 at the time, disappeared in July and were found dead in December. Their killer has not been caught.
Rainy, drab weather gave way to a comfortable cloudy day as people arrived for the service. By the end, the sun came out before dozens of pink and purple balloons were released to fly toward the heavens. Following the 20-minute ceremony, laughter could be heard from the many small children in attendance, young girls in pretty pink dresses collected flowers and little boys talked of cartoon character SpongeBob. Moving forward can only be delayed so long for those so young.
As children dispersed into the lush green lawns at Waterloo Memorial Park Cemetery, Heather and Drew Collins took time to greet each and every person who lined up to give their condolences. Drew took a moment with Elizabeth's close friend, Gabrielle Engel, placing their hands on the casket. Adonnis Hill, father of Donnisha Hill, who was murdered in 2006 at the age of 13, gave words of encouragement to the family.
Adonnis Hill has grown close to the Collins family as they have shared support and a quest for justice for the girls.
"We just try to keep each other above water, keep our thoughts clean. There's a lot of prayer," Hill said.
Hill's words of wisdom for Drew were to do a lot of fishing.
"My grandmother used to tell me fishing is like casting your troubles to the Lord. It gets rid of a lot of stress. It's about patience if he has enough patience he will get his answers," Hill said.
Elizabeth Collins was laid to rest in a wooden casket, placed inside a burial vault painted pink.
The pastor, Reeves, is a longtime friend of the Collins family and knew Elizabeth all her life. He spoke of the joy she spread, how she loved to sing and how still pictures the tilt of her head.
"There's a sense of finality in a funeral. It's also a beginning. Now this door is closed, but a new door is open. How do I walk this out? We have to face a new day. The memories are going to be there," Reeves said. He noted how the Collins family have always been generous, and their extensive network of friends and family has helped them through this, as has their religious faith.
An inscription on Collins's gravestone reads, "You're always in our hearts," and "you'll always be daddy's little girl."
Drew and Heather Collins have been active in seeking justice for their daughter, but also in doing what they can to prevent future tragedies.
"For us, we're just going to continue to make things better for children and other families. We're going to work on the Amber Alert to change that in Iowa," Heather Collins said. "We're just trying to make things better for other people."