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Updated: 7th January 2019 06:45

Alberta highway shooting victims honoured

A baseball-themed memorial took place Saturday afternoon for three young adults shot dead on an Alberta highway last month near Claresholm.

Sole survivor, Shayna Conway, attends memorial event

The memorial had a baseball theme to honour two of the victims who loved playing the game. (CBC)

Roughly 1,000 people came together in Lethbridge, Alta., Saturday afternoon to celebrate the lives of three young people cut short by an act of violence.

The baseball-themed memorial was held at the Enmax Centre for the victims who were shot dead on an Alberta highway last month near Claresholm.

Tanner Craswell, Mitch MacLean and Tabitha Stepple were gunned down in mid-December by Stepple's ex-boyfriend Derek Jensen, who then turned the gun on himself.

The only survivor — 21-year-old Shayna Conway — is still recovering from her injuries.

Conway was at the memorial alongside the families of the victims.

A roadside memorial was set up near Claresholm. (CBC)

Conway, who prepared a video statement because she has difficulties moving around, said she is slowly recovering.

"I’m so grateful for all the love and support my family and I have received from so many people," she said, adding some of whom were strangers.

Conway said she is looking forward to going home as soon as she can.

Families of both MacLean and Craswell travelled to Alberta from P.E.I. for the ceremony.

Keith Craswell, Tanner’s dad, said his son was always able to appreciate the kindness shown to him by others.

"He appreciated it ... every bit of it," he said.

Dianne MacLean, Mitch’s mother, read a poem that she had written for her son’s funeral. It was called Last Time at the Plate, and talked about her son's passion and love of baseball.

She also said the hospitality shown to her in Lethbridge was outstanding.

"You treated us like royalty," she said. "We knew Mitch loved it here in Lethbridge."

'Nine-inning' tribute

Craswell and MacLean were considered rising baseball stars and played for the Lethbridge Bulls, so the ceremony was themed around their sport.

"It’s a nine-inning baseball game — a different type of tribute every inning and each inning has a theme," said Kevin Kvame, Lethbridge Bulls president and general manager.

Kvame was busy preparing for the memorial Friday by sorting through memorabilia that will be set up to honour the victims.

"I think it's helped because we've been able to stay focused on that and not so much on the event and start to remember them for the good times that we had," he said.

Shayna Conway, who is still recovering, attended the memorial. (CBC)

During the memorial, Kvame said the tragedy has "shook us all to the core" but it has brought their baseball family closer together — forever connecting everyone, including friends and family in P.E.I.

Funeral services were already held for both 20-year-old MacLean and 22-year-old Craswell in their hometowns in P.E.I., but Lethbridge is where the two lived, went to school and played ball.

funeral was also held for 21-year-old Stepple in Lethbridge.

"There are a lot of people here who didn't have a chance to pay their respects, so that's a reason we're having this memorial — give them a chance to bring a sense of closure to this event," said Kvame.

More than just baseball players

Teammates of Craswell and MacLean were also on hand from three different teams they had played for during the last few years.

"We are just out here to grieve together," said teammate Austin Cooper. "Kind of a service for the people who couldn’t attend the service or get out to P.E.I. ... a way for everyone to see past the other side of what's happened."

During the memorial, Lethbridge Bulls coach Scott Rhodes said that the two young men were not just his players, but part of his family.

"We were truly blessed to have these two young men in our lives.... We love you boys and you are missed," he said.

And in true sports player fashion, at the end of the ceremony, the Lethbridge Bulls honoured the two players by raising their jerseys to the rafters — retiring MacLean's No. 6 and Craswell's No. 13.

A funeral for Tabitha Stepple was held on Dec. 21. (CBC)

One large "inning" was in memory of Stepple.

In the tribute, Stepple’s cousin Kerrie Wendorff Karaca said the 21-year-old had a genuine love for her family.

"We will keep you close in our hearts," she said.

Randy Stepple, Tabitha’s dad, said she seemed to spread love to everyone.

"She was usually the spark that changed the mood of any family gathering to a more positive note," Randy said as he tried to hold back tears.

He said the family is thankful for all the thoughts and prayers that came in from friends and family across the country.

Tabitha’s mother Renae Stepple, who appeared to be overcome with emotion, was surrounded by her children as she said that words could not say enough about her daughter.

"Mostly I want to tell Tabitha I love her and am so proud of her," she said.

Mourners also gather in P.E.I.

The memorial service was streamed live to about 65 people who gathered at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

The tragedy strongly impacted the community and many attended a memorial game of catch at Craswell and MacLean’s former high school in December. 

Craswell, MacLean and Conway were all from the Charlottetown area.

Memorial program

Warmups: Guard of Honour; Welcome from the MC Bryan Jeannotte; Introduction of Guests; Opening Prayer by Lethbridge College Chaplin Erin Phillips; National Anthem.

First Inning — The Spirit of P.E.I.: Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven performed by Dylan Holton; Words from Mark Clauson and Austin Cooper; Song Heave Away by The Fables.

Second Inning — Jets, Jets, Jets: Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Tribute from Les McTavish and Scott Reiling; Live performance by Vauxhall Jet Jager Toffan on guitar of 3 Doors Down's Be Like That, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama and John Fogerty's Centerfield with picture collage.

Third Inning — Once a Dawg, Always a Dawg: Prairie Baseball Academy Tribute from Todd Hubka, Omar Kadir, Ryan Macdonald, Shane MacInnis and Luke Barry; Song Dirt Road Anthem by Jason Aldean.

Fourth Inning — Sweet Summertime: Lethbridge Bulls Tribute from Scott Rhodes and Mike Coe; Game Footage Video with Mitch and Tanner's Plate Walk Up Songs (Country Girl by Luke Bryan and I Can't Dance by Genesis).

Fifth Inning — Let's Get At It Boys: Teammates and Friends Tribute from Tyson Ford and Jordan Duffy; Friends' Video Tribute; Song Live a Little by Kenny Chesney.

Sixth Inning — Tabitha Stepple Tribute: Tribute Video to Tabitha; Friends' Words from Cait McFarland, Family Words from Randy Stepple, Tabitha Stepple Dancing Video.

Seventh Inning — Traditions, Readings and Prayers: Reading No. 1 from Greg Vavra; Reading No. 2 from John Zsednai; Song Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds; Prayer and Group Lord's Prayer from Lethbridge College Chaplin Erin Phillips; Song Take Me Out to the Ballgame performed by Dylan Holton.

Eighth Inning — Our Miracle: Shayna Conway Tribute; Song The Dance by Garth Brooks.

Ninth Inning — Farewell For Now: Final Tributes to Mitch and Tanner from Kevin Kvame; Renae Stepple Reading; Keith Craswell speaks to Junior Bulls Baseball Players; Mitch MacLean poem by Dianne MacLean.

Post-game Wrap-Up: Lethbridge Bulls Jersey Retirement of MacLean's No. 6 and Craswell's No. 13 to the song Simply the Best by Tina Turner; Final Blessing and Benediction from Pastor Ian Lawson; Song Hold Your Breath with Me by Dylan Holton; Guard of Honour Departure with Family Members; Closing Information delivered by Bryan Jeannotte.

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