- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

VANDALIA, Ohio (AP) — Family and friends wept and prayed yesterday at a funeral Mass for a pregnant Marine found slain in North Carolina.

The service for Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach drew hundreds of mourners to St. Christopher Catholic Church near Dayton.

Four uniformed Marines wheeled Cpl. Lauterbach’s coffin down the aisle to the strains of “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” A small silver casket bearing Cpl. Lauterbach’s unborn child, who she had named Gabriel, was placed next to it.

Federal authorities have said the man suspected of killing her, Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean, has likely fled to Mexico.

Cpl. Lauterbach failed to show up for work in mid-December, and her burned remains were found with those of her unborn baby in a fire pit in the back yard of Cpl. Laurean’s house in Jacksonville, N.C.

The Lauterbach family sat together in the front row during yesterday’s Mass. Cpl. Lauterbach’s mother, Mary, dabbed her eyes with tissues and her father, Vic, comforted the Marine’s young brother.

The mourners included uniformed Marines and military veterans.

During his sermon, the Rev. Francis Keferl said Cpl. Lauterbach had a strong spirit: “We remember her athleticism and her competitive spirit. We remember that she wanted to serve her country as a Marine.”

Outside the church, about 200 members of the Patriot Guard, veterans who ride their motorcycles to military funerals, lined the drive and stood at attention as the hearse arrived. A makeshift sign made of plastic foam cups read: “We Miss You, Maria.”

Later, mourners stood solemnly around the hearse when it arrived at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton. Six Marines saluted and carried Cpl. Lauterbach’s flag-draped casket to her grave site. A Marine unit fired three rifle volleys, and taps was played.

Members of Cpl. Lauterbach’s family said they were touched by the outpouring of love and sympathy from her fellow Marines.

“Maria would want it remembered that despite the fears and frustrations of the past several months, her proudest moments were as a Marine,” the family said.

Cpl. Lauterbach, 20, had accused Cpl. Laurean of rape in May, a charge he denied. Both were stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Cpl. Laurean, who was born in Mexico, is being sought on an indictment charging first-degree murder. He fled North Carolina after leaving a note for his wife saying Cpl. Lauterbach cut her own throat and that he had buried her body, authorities said.

Capt. Rick Sutherland of the Onslow County, N.C., sheriff’s office said Friday the office was committed to apprehending the person responsible for Cpl. Lauterbach’s death.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Maria this weekend during the Mass of the Christian burial of Maria and her child,” Capt. Sutherland said.

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