MERRITT, B.C. - Hundreds of residents of the Interior B.C. community of Merritt met inside the civic centre Sunday to mark the short lives of three children found slain and to remember them as "angels" who were a "tribute to their mother."
The three children and their mother had only recently moved to Merritt and the three children - Kaitlynne Schoenborn, 10, and her brothers, eight-year-old Max, and five-year Cordon, all attended Diamond Vale elementary school for the first time.
Their principal and two teachers spoke warmly and lovingly of three children who were bright, well-liked and admired by their classmates.
But they were found dead by their mother April 6 and their father now faces three counts of first-degree murder.
About 300 people attended the service in which a number of community pastors tried to comfort those in attendance.
"They were special children and it's a real tribute to their mother," teacher Janna Heffernan told the crowd.
Heffernan taught Max and called him one of those students "who comes along only once in a while."
Max's personality, said Heffernan, was one that led her to tell those in the hall of how she thought he would view his short life: "Our world is not measured by how we live, but by how we treat others."
Cordon, a kindergarten student at Diamond Vale, always had a big smile, recalled principal Val O'Flaherty.
"His enthusiasm was infectious and it made him a joy to be around," she said.
O'Flaherty said the children shouldn't be defined by their deaths, but by how they were in life.
Tanis Haviland, who taught Kaitlynne, said she was "impressed by her intelligence from the first day."
"She had a positive attitude towards life."
Haviland recalled an incident when another student remarked that Kaitlynne didn't seem to have a lot of clothes.
"She said, 'So what. Clothes don't make me a better person."'
The service, held a week after a private gathering for family members, was held three weeks to the hour that the children's mother found their bodies in her mobile home.
It was almost a day after the deaths that police told the public they were looking for the father of the three children, Allan Schoenborn.
Ten days after the deaths a hunter came upon a dehydrated and frostbitten Schoenborn in the bushes just kilometres from Merritt's town centre.
He has since been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in connection to the deaths of his children.
Pastor Dave Strugnell of the Crossroads Community Church said the memorial service was a chance for the community to bring some of their emotional turmoil to an end and celebrate the children's lives.
"We are here to honour three angels," said Strugnell.
"Closure is all part of an emotional balancing, part of a healing process," he said.
"We are never going to forget those children: Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon," Strugnell said.
Strugnell also appealed to the community to learn from the tragedy and use it to become better citizens, and parents.
"This tragedy foisted on the family has galvanized Merritt as a community like nothing I've ever seen before," he said.
He spoke through the gathering to the children's mother, who did not attend the memorial.
"Darcie, we love you. We are behind you. We can't understand what you are going through."
Mother Darcie Clarke remains in seclusion following the deaths of her children.
After the service, Steve Thomas, stood outside dressed in full biker gear and said it was important that he attended.
"It was a good service," he said. He came "out of respect for what the children went through. I've had children go through that school over the years."
Tiffany Spahan sat on a bench with three friends.
"We just came out because it's sad that that happened."
Shania Ned said she knew all three of the deceased children from school and said they were "nice, kind, funny."
"Kaitlynne was helpful and smart and kind and Max loved to play sports and Cordon I really didn't know him."
The sensational case and the hunt for Schoenborn dominated headlines across the country.
He's scheduled to return to court May 2 on charges of uttering threats, stemming from an incident at his children's school a few days before the murders. He is also charged with escaping custody.
RCMP came under fire for not warning the public that Schoenborn was on the loose until the day after the bodies were discovered.
The case has also raised questions about the justice system because Schoenborn was released on bail in connection with the school incident over the objections of RCMP and despite a peace bond and three arrests in the week prior to the killings.
Only about 300 of the 500 chairs set up for the service were occupied.