Families say goodbye to fire victims

Heiden: bringing people togetherSpeckien: athlete, student and friend

A A cool autumn breeze cut through the warm sunlight surrounding 400 friends and family of Brian Heiden gathered Thursday at Sacred Heart Church in Racine, Wis.

Heiden and two roommates died Saturday in a fire at their duplex at 825 15th Ave. S.E.

Outside the church, Heiden’s childhood friend Adam Hrpcek, a University sophomore, struggled to keep his composure.

“This is the worst thing I ever had to do,” he said as tears rolled off his cheek.

Inside, a collage with pictures of Heiden doing everything from playing bingo to dancing with his grandmother reminded mourners of the Heiden they knew.

Crowds also signed a 2002 St. Catherine’s High School yearbook – replacing Heiden’s original yearbook, which was lost in the fire.

People filed past Heiden’s open casket before the ceremony, taking one last look at him – buried with a copy of Bob Marley’s “Legend,” a University T-shirt and a pack of Black and Mild cigars.

“The just person, though he died early, shall be at rest,” a woman read from the Book of Wisdom during the funeral ceremony – which was broken by tearful coughs and occasional shudders.

“Sometimes, things just go wrong,” said priest Russell Roetzer, one of three who took part in the service. “No parent ever plans the death of their child.”

After the funeral, Heiden’s University and hometown friends crowded together into Graceland Cemetery to say goodbye.

Phil Mazzie, a pallbearer in the service, said he was surprised and comforted by the diversity of Heiden’s high school friends who attended the funeral.

“I have never seen this many different crews together,” he said.

Mazzie said it was remarkable to see the many cliques that came together to remember Heiden.

“It makes you re-evaluate the situation,” Mazzie said.

Family and friends gathered Thursday at White Bear Lake United Methodist Church to remember Amanda Speckien.

“Amanda was spirited, full of life,” the Rev. Bryce Johnson said in his sermon, standing in the church where Speckien had been involved.

Speckien was one of three University sophomores who died after their Dinkytown duplex caught fire early Saturday morning.

Tables in the church’s entrance overflowed with flowers and mementos, including a baby shoe, a teddy bear and a framed certificate announcing Speckien’s high school membership in the National Honor Society. A baseball bat leaned against her casket, a glove and ball nestled in Speckien’s arms.

Alongside these tokens were pictures assembled on white poster board and placed on easels around the room. Some attendees held baby photos and team pictures; many were photos of Speckien with friends and family.

From the photos emerged a better glimpse of Speckien: the athlete, the student and the friend.

“She was the type of girl who would walk into a room and make everyone smile,” said one friend who spoke during the service.

Speckien’s older sister, Emily, chose some of the service’s music. Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” were among the selections.

Friends and softball teammates spoke about Speckien, expressing her love for animals, her innocence and her friendly, outgoing personality. Behind them, two screens displayed a slide show with more snapshots.

A cousin spoke for Speckien’s parents, James and Margaret Speckien. Reading from a sheet of paper, she talked about how close Speckien was to her family, how Speckien had missed them while away at college, and how she had called home often.

Speckien’s former softball coach wrote a letter, which her teammates read.

“She was a young lady determined to succeed at everything she attempted,” the coach wrote. “A coach’s dream, she was always willing to do what’s best for the team.”

Speckien was buried at Incarnation Cemetery. Surrounded by her friends, one could barely catch a glimpse of the pink, red and yellow flowers adorning the top of her casket.

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