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University of Vermont students Fay Oppenheimer (front left) and Erin Degraw (front right) shared memories of their friend Michelle Gardner-Quinn during a memorial service yesterday.
University of Vermont students Fay Oppenheimer (front left) and Erin Degraw (front right) shared memories of their friend Michelle Gardner-Quinn during a memorial service yesterday. (Peter Huoppi/ Burlington Free Press via AP)

Memorial of Vt. student recalls her nature-loving, free spirit

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Solemn and shaken, about 900 people packed into a brick chapel yesterday to remember a University of Vermont student in a memorial service with flowers, songs, and some of her own words.

The smiling face of Michelle Gardner-Quinn beamed down from two easel-mounted photographs on stage as a minister eulogized her and as four friends fought back tears to deliver recollections of the 21-year-old senior, who disappeared Oct. 7 and was found dead Friday in a ravine east of Burlington.

With her parents, sister, and brother in the front row, the Rev. Sue Marie Baskette, campus minister, spoke of the nature-loving spirit of Gardner-Quinn.

``We are angry and wanting to shout and scream at the top of our lungs. Why? Why, God, why? Yet there is no answer, only the stinging reminder of our frail existence here on earth," said Baskette.

The 55-minute service included readings from Gardner-Quinn's journal and an essay she wrote for an environmental studies class and turned in two days before her disappearance.

``Through my travels, I have learned tremendously, yet I feel that now is the time to settle down and explore internally. In this stage of life, I want to be able to practice what I preach, which includes internal connection to the natural world as well as community involvement," Gardner-Quinn wrote.

Gardner-Quinn, who had just transferred into the university this fall, was remembered by friends as a yoga lover who taught her friends to laugh harder, eat healthier, and dance to Shakira's music.

``Her crazy personality and positive energy always made our dorm such a happy place," said one.

Two of Gardner-Quinn's student yoga instructors did yoga exercises on stage as their faculty adviser read from her journal. The congregation consisted mainly of University of Vermont students but also included Governor James Douglas, US Representative Bernie Sanders, and Burlington Police Chief Thomas Tremblay.

The suspect in her death, Brian L. Rooney, 36, will be arraigned in Vermont District Court in St. Johnsbury on charges of sexual assault on a minor.

He is also charged with lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor in neighboring Essex County, more than 80 miles east of the University of Vermont's campus in Burlington.

The Essex County charge dates to a case in 1998. Both charges were brought as a result of information that came to light as police investigated him in connection with the disappearance of Gardner-Quinn.

Gardner-Quinn was last seen Oct. 7 walking up Main Street in Burlington with Rooney after borrowing his cellphone in a bid to reunite with friends she had been out with, authorities said. Rooney, who was seen walking alongside her in surveillance camera footage shot by a jewelry store camera at 2:34 a.m., was apparently the last person to see her alive, according to police.

But he has not been charged in her disappearance.

Hikers found her body in a rocky ravine Friday. An autopsy was performed Saturday but police have yet to give a cause of death.

Police have appealed for the public's help in gathering information about Rooney and his activities after he was seen with Gardner-Quinn.

``Our investigation continues to focus on Brian Rooney's actions and whereabouts during the time period of Saturday, Oct. 7, at 2:30 a.m. to midmorning Monday, Oct. 9," police Lieutenant Kathleen Stubbing said.

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