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Dickinson State University hosts memorial for three students

Dickinson State University softball player Charnel Zetsch, right, holds the hand of Claire Gemar, mother of Kyrstin Gemar, one of the three DSU students who were found in a vehicle submerged in a stock pond Tuesday, during a memorial service on the campus in Dickinson, N.D. on Thursday. The Dickinson Press Photo/Beth Wischmeyer

DICKINSON, N.D. -- It was an event filled with tears but with a resounding message to look toward the future as Dickinson State University students, friends and family gathered Thursday to honor three students who drowned in their vehicle.

Kyrstin Gemar, 22, Ashley Neufeld, 21, and Afton Williamson, 20, were found Tuesday in a vehicle submerged in a stock pond outside of Dickinson. They had been missing since Sunday.

The women's softball jerseys were framed and given to their parents during the memorial and university officials announced the softball numbers will be retired.

Thursday's memorial was held in the campus auditorium and broadcast to other areas of campus. About 1,000 people attended all together.

The Rev. Scott McKirdy of the United Methodist Church in Dickinson provided prayer and remarks, likening the girls to three flowers that have their beauty appreciated and never forgotten.

"Today Ashley, Kyrstin and Afton have become, for all of us in this moment, our friends and our teammates and our daughters and our students and our classmates," McKirdy said. "As we grieve together there is community and we remember the beauty and perfection of Ashley and Kyrstin and Afton."

DSU President Richard McCallum spoke to the young women's parents.

"We are with you on this journey," he said. "In some small way it is our hope that the love and the compassion that you feel today will help you as you move forward."

The journey of grief will continue for a very long time, he added.

"For many of us the grief will never disappear," McCallum said. "All we can hope is that the gentle hand of Father Time helps us to cope. As we move forward, we will never forget. We will always remember; we will always honor our three students."

McCallum said words of compassion have come from across the United States and Canada.

Softball team co-captain Jody Lantz said there will be 12 players on the field this year.

"Ashley was willing to help anyone and everyone; she always welcomed you with a big hug and a smile," she said. "She was the type of teammate that would always be smiling and laughing.

"Kyrstin, or Beyonce or Mama K, always cared about everyone. Whenever we needed to talk, she was always there to listen. I never told Beyonce that when she hit a home run, it made me want to hit a home run too."

Ashley's mother, Bev Neufeld, thanked the community and the school for being "Ash's" home away from home.

"She absolutely loved it here and couldn't wait to come back. She would want all of you to put on your best smiles," Neufeld said. "I hear her telling me, and all of you, to be strong."

Neufeld said the three athletes were some of the most sincere and unselfish young ladies with hearts of gold.

"I would just like to say to her softball teammates that little No. 4 will be your angel in the outfield," Bev Neufeld said.

In a joint effort by DSU organizations, Student Senate, Campus Activities Board and the Office of Student Development, T-shirts are being sold for $3 a piece in honor of Gemar, Neufeld and Williamson.

Proceeds are going to the families.

Beth Wischmeyer is a reporter for the Dickinson (N.D.) Press. The Press and the Bemidji Pioneer are owned by Forum Communications Co.