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Friends remember slain hiker as 'angel,' 'firecracker'

  • Story Highlights
  • Hundreds of people pack Georgia church for memorial service for Meredith Emerson
  • "True beauty like hers can never be gone from the lives she touched," friend says
  • Roommate: "I can find peace today knowing Meredith was so very loved"
  • Emerson's parents greet mourners after the service
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(CNN) -- There were tears and tributes as hundreds of people gathered at a church in Athens, Georgia, Friday to remember Meredith Emerson -- the young hiker whose body was found Monday.

"I want to thank her for being my angel," said Emerson's roommate, Julia Karrenbauer, one of several friends who spoke during the memorial service, CNN affiliate WSB reported.

"I can find peace today knowing Meredith was so very loved."

Jason Emerson, Meredith's cousin, was overcome by emotion as he tried to read a note from her parents.

When he couldn't go on, another mourner came up, hugged him and took over.

The parents "wanted to let you know how much this has helped hold us up," the note said, referring to the people who helped search for Emerson and who have comforted them throughout the ordeal.

Dave and Sue Emerson did not speak during the service. But a friend described their 24-year-old daughter as a "firecracker."

"True beauty like hers can never be gone from the lives she touched. Meredith, we love you," said Isaac Wolf, according to WSB.

Another friend called Emerson's death an "unimaginable tragedy and loss."

"Meredith was beautiful inside and out. She loved people, she loved to meet them and talk with them. She couldn't stand to see pain on anyone's face," said Robby Poister.

About 600 people packed the Central Presbyterian Church, where Emerson's godparents are members. Another 150 watched the memorial service from an overflow area, according to WSB.

"She worked for several years in Central's nursery while a student at [the University of Georgia]," the church's Web site said.

The mourners were asked to wear green -- Emerson's favorite color. A slide show featuring photos of Emerson throughout her life left much of the crowd in tears. Many people also sobbed as they sang "Amazing Grace."

Emerson's dog, Ella -- who was with Emerson when she vanished on New Year's Day -- was in a garden area outside the sanctuary during the memorial service.

After the tributes, Emerson's parents greeted the hundreds of mourners who came to pay their respects. Many people also stopped to greet Ella.

Emerson's parents will adopt the dog and take it with them to Colorado, WSB reported.

Ella is "a part of Meredith that they'll always have," family spokeswoman Peggy Bailey told the station.

The dog, a Labrador mix, was found wandering January 4, the same day investigators believe Emerson was killed. Follow the case on an interactive map »

Gary Michael Hilton is charged with malice murder in the case. He led investigators to Emerson's body Monday.


Several witnesses told authorities they saw Hilton and Emerson together, letting their dogs play along a hiking trail in Vogel State Park in the north Georgia mountains.

An autopsy report showed Emerson died of blunt force trauma to the head and was decapitated after her death. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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