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Another slain young girl laid to rest

Sarah Lunde's families - from home, church, school - united to mourn the Ruskin 13-year-old.

By LETITIA STEIN
Published April 24, 2005


RUSKIN - They came together in tears.

The family that knew Sarah Lunde since birth. The family that she prayed with at church. The family of those who have lost children after agonizing searches.

On Saturday, they united to bury the 13-year-old in a white casket covered with flowers. A teddy bear sat on top, with a Bible opened to the passage, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted."

Sarah's mourners found comfort in each other.

A packed funeral service at the First Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ in Ruskin marked the first time that Sarah's family worshiped in the church that once was her second home.

"I want to thank you for letting Sarah be a part of our lives," said youth paster Matt Fontana. "We love you and appreciate you for taking care of her."

At Sarah's funeral, Sarah's mother, Kelly May, sobbed with church leaders. Nearly 450 people joined them to mourn the slain sixth-grader, whose body was found just over a week ago in a nearby abandoned fish pond.

Many mourners, including Sarah's siblings, wore white T-shirts with a picture of Sarah smiling shyly, eyes bright behind a fringe of dark bangs. A poem printed on the back of the shirts began: "Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free." The letters were green, Sarah's favorite color.

Friends and family members recalled Sarah's generous heart and devout Christian faith.

"Sarah knew how to cry. She knew how to pray. She knew how to touch God," said Rev. Johnny Cook, the church's pastor. "She is not departed for no reason."

But prayers could not erase the pain of the past two weeks. Sarah disappeared from her home April 10. Hundreds of volunteers searched for her in rural, southeast Hillsborough County. Her body was found April 16 partly clothed in the pond near her home and church.

Investigators say David Onstott, a 36-year-old registered sex offender who once dated Sarah's mother, confessed to choking her to death and dumping her body. He is charged with first-degree murder.

Sarah's family has been comforted by the presence of Homosassa resident Mark Lunsford, whose 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, was kidnapped in late February and found slain near their home last month. Lunsford helped search for Sarah and attended her funeral.

"There's always something positive out of something bad," said Lunsford, who is lobbying state and federal lawmakers for tougher penalties for sex offenders. "You might not see it right away, but there always is."

But nothing could dry the tears of those who said their final goodbyes to Sarah on Saturday at Ruskin Memorial Park. Friends and teachers from Beth Shields Middle School watched Sarah's brothers place white roses on top of her casket. Lips trembling, sister Rebekah Lunde, 22, added a small bouquet. The siblings embraced the church's pastors.

At the edge of the grave site, Sarah's neighbor, Vincent Pena, 40, pondered fresh worries. Like other families in the area, he now fears for his children's safety. And he doesn't know what to say to his 10-year-old daughter, who recently asked why two good girls had to die.

"How do you answer that question?" he said.

Information from Times files was used for this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at 661-2443 or lstein@sptimes.com