Image: Funeral service
Skip Peterson  /  AP
A Marine Corps honor guard stands at parade rest in during the funeral of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach on Saturday.
updated 2/2/2008 4:28:39 PM ET 2008-02-02T21:28:39

Family and friends wept and prayed Saturday 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 Lauterbach's coffin down the aisle to the strains of "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory." A small silver casket bearing 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. Lauterbach failed to show up for work in mid-December, and last month her burned remains were found with those of her fetus in a fire pit in the backyard of Laurean's house in Jacksonville, N.C.

The Lauterbach family sat together in the front row. Lauterbach's mother, Mary, dabbed her eyes with tissues and her father, Vic, comforted Maria's young brother.

The mourners included uniformed Marines and military veterans.

During his sermon, the Rev. Francis Keferl said 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 Lauterbach's flag-draped casket to her grave site. A Marine unit gave Lauterbach a 21-gun salute and Taps was played.

Members of Lauterbach's family said in a statement later that 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 statement said.

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

Lauterbach's family issued a statement Friday reiterating concerns about how authorities handled her rape claim.

Naval investigators have said they had no evidence to corroborate the claim, but Lauterbach and Laurean's regimental commander was intent on taking the case to a hearing that could have led to a trial.

"Published reports and official statements have included some assertions that are inconsistent, illogical, and misleading," Lauterbach's family said in the statement, issued through attorneys. "There are many unanswered questions, and we are continuing to review and evaluate the information that has been released."

The family has previously said Lauterbach had been harassed at Camp Lejeune and accused the Marines of not protecting her.

Despite lingering questions, the family said it was confident that civilian and military authorities would conduct a complete investigation of Lauterbach's rape claim, her disappearance and Laurean's flight.

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 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 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," Sutherland said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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