'Light in the dark'
Friends, family remember life of vibrant woman

ATHENS - Dr. Robert Bohler Jr. calmly told a congregation of hundreds not to be consumed with hatred or the want of revenge. He said some things are the product of darkness and evil, others of light and good. Some things transcend human understanding, he said.

The ashes of 24-year-old Meredith Hope Emerson - captured in a brassy urn between Bohler and his audience - served as evidence of that.

"If you had doubted before this that there is evil in the world," the pastor chimed, "that should not be a question any longer."

Because of Emerson's infamous death, others will likely be spared, Bohler told a standing-room-only congregation of several hundred at Central Presbyterian Church in Athens. Bohler has received tokens of sympathy for Emerson - a Buford hiker found murdered Monday in Dawson County - from as far as Australia, he said.

He called the outpouring a testament to Emerson's charming, ebullient spirit.

"People who did not know Meredith have come to feel like they did," Bohler said. "She made a remarkable number of friends in her short life."

Emerson worked during her UGA years as a nursery baby-sitter in the church where her public memorial was held Friday.

Alongside Emerson's grief-stricken family and friends, the crowd was dotted with uniformed representatives of the Union County Sheriff's Office, Georgia's Department of Natural Resources, the GBI and Atlanta police, among other agencies.

The hour-long service closed with a slideshow - a collage of the smiling young woman with family, friends, her dog - and a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace." Emerson's rescued sidekick, a black Labrador mix named Ella, waited outside for a mass petting afterward.

Through eulogy, friends gave color to Emerson's remarkable personality. She loved crossword puzzles, traveling, French literature, martial arts, classical music, writing - a vibrant, intelligent woman who played piano with her mother, who loved to sip wine with her many girlfriends.

Compliments were abundant.

College friend Isaac Wolf recalled Emerson's "firecracker" wit, noting she greeted strangers "with enthusiasm usually reserved for longtime friends." She was most vivacious, Wolf said, during a trip to Asheville, N.C., when she was giddy on the chateau grounds of the Biltmore Estate, a sweeping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains behind her.

"Meredith knew that the good in the world is stronger than the bad," added friend Robby Poister. His witty eulogy coaxed short bursts of laughter from the crowd. "In the face of difficulty like this, I know she'd be the first to grab us, hug us, hold us tightly," Poister said.

Ken Blumreich, Emerson's instructor at AKF Itto Martial Arts in Athens, awarded his "enthusiastic" pupil a posthumous, first-degree black belt in Kyuki-Do, a hybrid of Judo and other Korean styles. She died a blue belt, two notches below the coveted black belt.

Emerson's roommate, Julia Karrenbauer, apologized to Emerson for releasing an unflattering photo to the media: a candid snapshot taken during a girl's night out in Athens, as Emerson was recovering from bee stings. She hated that picture - an image later broadcast around the world - Karrenbauer said.

Karrenbauer read an old poem by Emerson that she'd unearthed while packing her belongings, a short paean thanking God for 10 simple pleasures.

Among them: "A warm bed. Butterflies. Family. Children who wave just because."

Cousin Jason Emerson said he encouraged the budding scribe to stick with her writing as a youth in Raleigh, N.C. He read a piece by Emerson called "The Cloak," in which his cousin described shedding personal lows for fresh beginnings.

"I don't think she'd want us to be permanently embittered by what happened," he said. "She'd want us to see the light in the dark."

Gripping the pew, Jason Emerson struggled to read a statement prepared by the slain woman's parents, Dave and Susan. He faltered only a few lines in. Susan Emerson immediately rose from her seat. She walked onstage in a purple dress, wrapped her left arm around the emotional young man, faced the crowd and started in where he had left off.

She didn't falter.