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'We brought her home': Family buries Gina Anderson next to her sister

Family and friends of Gina Anderson release balloons Tuesday with the message "Hope for Gina" at the Greenwood Cemetery in Thief RIver Falls. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.1 / 2
Dozens of bouquets are displayed Tuesday near Gina Anderson's casket at Trinity Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls as Rev. John Voelker officiates at Gina's funeral. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.2 / 2

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. - Three days shy of a year since her disappearance, Gina Anderson was reunited with her sister Jill on Tuesday.

The reunion came at Greenwood Cemetery, where they are buried side by side.

Tuesday was the funeral and burial of Gina, who went missing Oct. 23, 2008, and was found on Oct. 14. But the day's recurring theme was about both daughters "coming home." Jill Lappegaard died in a car accident Dec. 7, 2008, while the search for her older sister was ongoing.

The burial service ended with the release of 100 canary yellow balloons carrying the message "Hope for Gina." The balloons matched the color of her cherished Pontiac Sunfire that she was driving when it went into the Red Lake River.

"This is what it's all about - hope for Gina," said her mother, Judy Lappegaard. "We brought her home. Now, let her go in peace."

That was the cue for the mourners to release the balloons.

Judy experienced knee-buckling grief at the cemetery, with the sight of the gravesites of two lost adult daughters.

Later, she said, "We didn't have time to grieve for Jill like we should have, because we went right back to Gina. Now, we have to heal from the loss of both of them and try to make the best lives for ourselves that we can.

"Another feeling we're having right now is closure."

The Rev. John Voelker spoke of the family's loss: "It's like a year spent in purgatory," he said. "Of all the tragedies I've seen in my 20-plus years of ministry, this seems like none other."

But he also comforted mourners, saying, "Jill and Gina finally get to see God face to face."

Trinity Lutheran was overflowing with more than 400 people. The altar was covered with 43 floral arrangements, most of them pink or red. The service was broadcast on the local cable channel, a sign of how the family's double-tragedy had touched northwestern Minnesota.

Eric Pagel, the husband of Jill, the third Lappegaard sister, spent several minutes at the lectern thanking those who helped in the searches for Gina or offered other support and comfort.

"It's amazing to watch human compassion at work," Pagel said. "It's the most powerful thing there is on earth.

"That is what happened to bring Gina home, and that is what will be needed for many years to come."

The service's music included a tape of the Rascal Flatts song "Here Comes Goodbye." It was Jeremy and Gina Anderson's favorite song as a married couple. The chorus goes:

"Here comes the pain

"Here comes me wishing things had never changed

"And she was right here in my arms tonight

"But here comes goodbye."

The song was perfect for a day where family and friends said goodbye and welcome home.