After months of waiting, Mandy Matula's family and friends finally have a sense of closure. On Monday, her loved ones traveled to the site where a hiker found her body over the weekend to remember her.
On Sunday night, police confirmed the body found 87 miles away from Eden Prairie is Mandy Matula, the 24-year-old who disappeared on May 1 after leaving home without her purse or cell phone with her ex-boyfriend, David Roe. Investigators believe Roe murdered her that night, shooting her once in the head and then burying her body in a shallow grave.
After six months of wondering where Mandy could be and yearning to bring her home, the Matula family made the journey to where her body was discovered because they considered it an important step in their healing process.
"The sun was out, shining through the trees. The site where Mandy was found -- very peaceful and soothing," Steven Matula, Mandy's brother, told Fox 9 News.
Several friends came along for the trip, and the group built a small memorial to remember Mandy.
"Many of them brought flowers, pictures, segments of her life," Wayne Matula, Mandy's father, said.
The group followed the same trail that led a hiker to the shallow grave, through the leaves and pine cones in Mississippi River Park to see where Mandy was found for themselves and remember her life.
"If you were to walk there now, you'd see a little trail. You'll see balloons. We carved a number 14 into one of the pine trees," Steven Matula said.
That was the number Mandy wore on the University of Minnesota-Duluth softball team -- the same number on the UMD jacket she was buried in. With the memorial established, the Matulas then took time to reflect.
"A lot of silence, of just looking and thinking and praying," Wayne Matula said of the journey.
The somber trip marked the end of a six-month search, one that drew hundreds from communities across the metro and touched strangers who heard the Matulas' story. Even Eden Prairie Police Chief Rob Reynolds was visibly emotional and struggled to make the announcement at the Sunday press conference.
"Many people had connections to her," he said. "I know that my family alone had three different connections to Mandy."
Reynolds also explained that investigators believe Roe is the only suspect in Mandy Matula's death. Although he took his own life before he could be questioned by investigators, police plan to keep the case open and may still submit it to the county attorney.
Both police and the Matulas had been grateful for the numerous volunteers who turned out to search areas stretching from Eden Prairie all the way into Stearns County multiple times. Neighbor Patty Wenzel was among those who was with the search teams from start to finish.
"It's not the ending that we wanted because we want Mandy back," she admitted.
Wenzel also made the trip to Mississippi River Park on Monday, and she brought back some reminders.
"I just wanted to pick up the pine cones and pine needles," she said.
Yet, the Matulas say kneeling in front of the memorial they built brings them peace because they know Mandy is finally home.
"We lost a daughter; we lost a sister. It's going to take time for healing, to totally understand the circumstances of what has transpired," Wayne Matula said.
A funeral for Mandy Matula will be held at Grace Church in Eden Prairie on Nov. 9. As for the Minnesota United group that Steven Matula started on Facebook to help find missing women, the family says it will continue to be there to help.