Family and friends of Belton teen Kara Kopetsky say goodbye at memorial service

Family, friends celebrate life of Kara Kopetsky

After a decade, Kara Kopetsky's family and friends said goodbye during a celebration of life memorial service.
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After a decade, Kara Kopetsky's family and friends said goodbye during a celebration of life memorial service.

After a decade, Kara Kopetsky’s family and friends said goodbye.

Goodbye to the daughter who at the age of 17 never came home. Goodbye to the person her mother remembers as being wonderful and fun loving.

More than 10 years after Kopetsky vanished, friends and family celebrated her life during a memorial service Saturday afternoon.

The service was open to anyone and everyone, her mother, Rhonda Beckford said.

“It’s our way of saying goodbye to Kara after 10 years and honoring her and her life,” she said of the Saturday memorial service.

Back in May 2007, Kopetsky walked out of Belton High School before her afternoon classes.

She didn’t return home. She didn’t show up for her 4 p.m. shift at a nearby Popeye’s restaurant.

It wasn’t until last month that a set of human bones found in early April in Cass County were identified as Kopetsky’s.

Also found near there were the remains of Jessica Runions, a woman who went missing in September 2016.

Both had ties to Kylr Yust, an estranged boyfriend of Kopetsky’s around the time of her 2007 disappearance.

Runions was last seen leaving a gathering with Yust.

Runions’ burned vehicle was later found by authorities, and Yust was charged with burning the car.

There have been no charges filed in either woman’s death.

“We got back something that we were told we would never have,” Beckford said this week. “We found Kara.”

Her mother remembers Kara as being a lot like any other teenage girl. She liked to shop, she loved animals, and she loved her family and friends.

“Kara was the type of person that if she felt that you needed a friend, she was going to try to be that friend,” her mother said.

Before the services, Beckford said she had hundreds of butterfly stickers.

As people came in to the service, she wanted people to take one of the stickers to honor Kara and remember her by.

“Kara loved butterflies,” she said.

Rev. Ben Lee, Kopetsky’s youth pastor, reiterated during the service, “Kara has come home.”

“The family and the community has been released from a decade of anxiety and worry,” he said.

Lee remembered Kopetsky as being “so gracious.”

“She never met a stranger,” Lee said. “I have vivid memories, in a crowded room, of Kara reaching out to others at church and welcoming people who were on the margins, a little uncomfortable, on the fringe.”

Lt. Brad Swanson of the Belton Police Department, a longtime investigator on Kopetsky’s case, said this week the Saturday service “gives a little bit of resolution,” for the community.

“People can know that she’s been found,” he said. “And that her family can have the service for her and finally, you know, they kind of get the process of moving forward instead of kind of in that constant wait-and-see-what’s-going-to-happen mode.”

And at Saturday afternoon’s memorial service at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union Local 124 in south Kansas City, a room filled with people remembered Kopetsky.

They watched clips from old home movies, listened to stories from those who knew her, and talked about what she had meant to them.

A sign hanging near the entrance to the service called Kopetsky “Our missing star,” and thanked people for their years of support.

“They’ve surrounded us with love and they’ve surrounded Kara with love,” Beckford said earlier. “Kara is more than just our daughter. … She belongs to the community.”

Laura Bauer and Kaitlyn Schwers contributed to this report

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw