LAUREL, Md. — Lauren Teresa Giddings came home Saturday.
She came home to her hometown, to her family and friends, to her church and to her Lord.
As a soaking rainstorm fell on Laurel, a suburban community of 25,000 halfway between Washington and Baltimore, a few hundred umbrella-protected mourners filed into St. Mary of the Mills Catholic Church to remember Giddings, 27. But the rain couldn't wash away their anguish over the gruesome manner in which the life of the promising Mercer Law School graduate was taken.
Monsignor Michael Wilson said it's natural to feel angry and bitter, but urged the mourners to focus on her life, not her death.
The best reaction we can have is to choose to love," he said.
Giddings graduated from law school in May and was studying for her bar exam. She was last seen after a night out with friends on June 25 and was reported missing by a friend June 29. Police found her dismembered remains a day later in a garbage bin outside the apartment building where she lived in Macon, Ga.
A neighbor, 25-year-old Stephen McDaniel, has been charged with murder in the case.
At Giddings' funeral Saturday, people of all ages held hands and hugged to try to comfort one another. Many simply looked stunned, unable to understand the senselessness of her death.
"Its hard to rejoice in sadness," Wilson said. "The sadness is ours, not hers. She went home to the Lord way too soon for us — for her, she is home with God. Celebrate not her death, but her resurrection. This is my beloved daughter, God would say."
A large, sepia-toned portrait of Giddings stood near the altar, surrounded by pink and white flowers.
Many wept as pallbearers brought in a silver urn containing Giddings' remains.
Some in the pews sang along with the choir to "Amazing Grace" and "You Raise Me Up."
A family friend said that the Catholic school Giddings attended is next to the church, and that some of the nuns who taught her still teach there. Some of the children at the school filled a window with art, in tribute to Giddings.
Because of the high-profile nature of the Giddings murder case, TV and news photographers gathered across the street from the church. A heavy police presence stood guard, directing traffic and preparing to escort the funeral convoy to Giddings' final resting place.
Wilson called Giddings "a person who made a difference in your lives." He asked the mourners to seek justice, not revenge.
Wilson said it was difficult to understand "why someone would be so evil and would inflict that on someone" who was the opposite of evil.
"Don't let the evil of one man rob us of our faith," he said. "Then evil will win, and not love."
Giddings, 6-feet-tall and blond, was an avid runner and played softball for Agnes Scott College, outside of Atlanta. She was active in the Federalist Society, and thinking that someday she'd become a judge, her friends called her "Scalia."
"She was a person of vitality," Wilson said. "She lived life to the fullest."