By Allison Manning and Elizabeth Gibson
Two lines of mourners visited two families today to pay respects to the three victims of a heinous homicide.
In Gahanna, 13-year-old Sarah Maynard, the sole survivor of a seemingly random kidnapping and murder that took the lives of her mother and brother, received hugs at Peace Lutheran Church.
Mourners joined her to say goodbye to Tina Herrmann, 32, and her 11-year-old son, Kody Maynard.
The two will be buried together Wednesday in Reynoldsburg.
Many of the same people stopped by calling hours at Flowers-Snyder Funeral Home in Mount Vernon to comfort the family of Herrmann’s friend Stephanie L. Sprang, 41. There will be a private family burial for her Wednesday in Mount Vernon.
The bodies of Herrmann, Kody and Sprang were found last Thursday inside a hollow beech tree in Knox County. They had been missing since Nov. 10, when the three and Sarah disappeared from Herrmann’s Apple Valley home.
Sarah was found bound in the basement of Matthew J. Hoffman, 30, who is being held in lieu of $1 million cash bail on kidnapping charges.
Today, those who loved the three tried to remember the positive memories instead of their final moments.
No teenager should have to say goodbye to her mother and her brother in the same day. But that’s what Sarah did, only nine days after she was freed.
As she stood in a receiving line yesterday, Sarah was surrounded by family, including her dad, Larry Maynard, friends said. One of those giving his condolences was Knox County Sheriff David B. Barber, who had called Sarah the “epitome of bravery” after she was found.
“They’re surrounded by family and they’re doing the best that they can,” said Michelle Rutherford, a longtime friend of Sarah’s stepmother.
“I’m sure tomorrow’s going to be a lot worse, but they’re keeping their heads up.”
Friends walked out of the church yesterday clutching sunflowers, one of Herrmann’s favorites, and baseballs, for Kody’s favorite sport, with his name, birth and death dates.
“I wrote, ‘We miss you, and always will miss you,’” said Keisha Frazee, 11, whose mother,Teresa Partlow, had worked with Herrmann at the Dairy Queen in Mount Vernon.
“When I pull into work, I expect to find her truck there,” Partlow said.
Partlow and co-worker Beverley Healy remembered her as a joker who was full of energy and life.
In a statement, the Herrmann and Maynard families thanked “the nation for the outpouring of love, prayers and support that you all continue to provide,” including those who have donated money at a Fifth Third bank account to support Sarah Maynard.
“To the residents of Knox County who grieve with us as well, we would like to share that all of you who are touched by this tragedy, whether directly or indirectly, are in our hearts and prayers.”
Other than the size of the crowd in Mount Vernon, the final farewell to Sprang wasn’t that different from calling hours for any other mother, daughter or friend. Loved ones said it was testament to the fact that she was an ordinary person who was visited by a horrific act of violence.
Photos on a screen faded in and out, pictures that could have been in anyone’s family album a toddler bundled in a puffy winter coat, a little girl in a frilly dress, and pictures of an older girl, then a young woman in a series of graduation caps, a long white wedding gown and with family in front of the Christmas tree.
The only real hint that something was different was the occasional whisper of disbelief about how the mother of three came to be lying in that closed silver casket adorned with white and pink flowers.
“She was a beautiful person inside and out,” said family friend Jessie Lucas. “It’s unreal that somebody could do something like this to her, to a family. The whole community is hurting and pulling together.”
Friends from the golf course where Sprang once worked said her smile and positive disposition was infectious.
“Her laugh was unmistakable, just loud and always full of joy. You always knew what hole she was on because you could hear that laugh,” said Shannon Beheler, one of Sprang’s golf partners.
The immediate family didn’t comment during the visiting hours, sticking close to one another.
Nancy Thompson, 54, a relative, said nothing has really sunk in yet. But she said the community support seems to be lending the family strength.
She gestured toward the constant flow of people walking through the funeral home doors.
“It kind of restores your faith in humanity,” she said.