CUMBERLAND — A prayer vigil for a missing North Yarmouth woman became an impromptu memorial service Saturday evening, as the family and friends of Kristin Westra came to terms with what a minister called her “untimely death.”

“Let this be a sanctuary for you,” senior minister Diane Bennekamper told more than 100 people gathered in the Congregational Church in Cumberland. “We, too, feel the loss you do.”

Westra’s husband, Jay Westra, reported his wife missing Monday morning, when he woke to discover she had left without her car or cellphone. Police and volunteers spent the rest of the week searching the area around her home.

Kristin Westra

On Friday, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said a woman’s body had been discovered that morning by children playing in the woods less than a half-mile from the Westra home.

“My heart was crushed today,” Jay Westra wrote in a public Facebook post early Friday afternoon.

The state medical examiner’s office has not identified the body or released a cause of death. The search has been called off and there was no police presence Saturday afternoon near where the body was found on Route 115 in North Yarmouth.

Capt. Craig Smith of the sheriff’s office said in an email Saturday evening that there was no update to the case. “I suspect there will be one tomorrow afternoon,” Smith said.

For those gathered in the Cumberland church Saturday evening, the absence of an official death confirmation did nothing to ease the raw pain of sudden, unexpected loss.

“I don’t even feel like I can ever feel normal again,” said Westra’s brother, Eric Rohrbach, speaking to the assembly.

One by one, about a dozen people came to the dais to light a candle and say a few words about Kristin. In the pews, people held one another, cried quietly and passed around tissues. In between speakers, the hall was silent, broken only by sniffles.

The vigil was planned earlier in the week, while an active search for Westra was underway. An official memorial service will be held in two weeks, Bennekamper said.

Friends and family remembered Westra as a source of joy and exuberance – a passionate teacher at Chebeague Island School who ran like a “gazelle” and loved the people closest to her. Friends recalled hiking trips to Mount Katahdin, annual Halloween costume parties and regular running races. She restored one woman’s faith in teaching and supported her friends through thick and thin.

“She was always very positive, always saw the bright side of everything,” Rohrbach said.

One woman, a 20-year friend of Westra, said she booked a one-way plane ticket from California to Maine as soon as she heard about her disappearance.

“It is just shocking for me. I just can’t wrap my head around what’s happening,” she said.

Jay Westra, supported by a friend, thanked the assembly, his family and the police who searched for his wife.

“The moment I met Kristin on our first date, it was really simple to know that I planned to be with her forever,” Westra said.

Family members have said Westra, 47, was an early riser, but it was out of character for her to leave without telling someone.

In an interview with NBC News earlier in the week, Jay Westra said his wife had recently been experiencing anxiety and some sleepless nights. She had seen a licensed clinical nurse practitioner for a safety assessment that determined she was not a risk to harm herself or others, he told NBC.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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