BAXTER -- It's been nearly two months since they buried their beloved daughter.
Now Dru Sjodin's parents are attempting to come to terms with their grief while working to keep their daughter's legacy alive.
Dru's mother and stepfather, Linda and Sidney Walker, of Pequot Lakes, along with Dru's father, Allan Sjodin, Minneapolis, were at Brenny Funeral Chapel in Baxter Friday to receive several three-ringed binders filled with more than 6,000 printed e-mail messages of support sent to the family through the funeral chapel's Web site by well-wishers from around the globe.
Joe Brenny, owner of Brenny Funeral Chapel, and his staff have been saving the e-mailed messages for the family since Dru's funeral April 24 in Nisswa. They gave Dru's family five sets of two large three-ringed binders.
The messages were sent from many other countries and from every state, said Brenny. About 293,000 well-wishers have visited the funeral home's Web site to learn more about Dru.
Dru, 22, a 2000 Pequot Lakes High School graduate, was kidnapped Nov. 22, 2003, from a Grand Forks, N.D., shopping mall where she worked. A Crookston Level 3 sex offender was arrested and charged with her kidnapping while volunteers spent the winter searching for Dru. Her body was discovered April 17 near Crookston.
More than 1,500 mourners attended her funeral April 24 at Grand View Lodge. She was buried at the Pinewood Cemetery in Crosslake.
Her parents said many people have visited Dru's grave since her funeral. They often leave notes and flowers.
The outpouring of support by the community and by people throughout the world has been helping the family during those dark moments when they ache for their daughter, they said. They've received thousands of cards and letters, which continue to arrive in the mail.
Linda Walker said she has handwritten more than 2,500 thank you cards to people who have sent their condolences to the family.
Allan Sjodin, who stops by and visits his daughter's grave regularly, said he's mailed more than 800 thank you cards to people who have offered their time, support and encouragement to him and his family during this difficult time.
"It is what gets you through this," Linda Walker said of the support. "That so many people loved your daughter as we do."
"It confirms what we've always known about Dru," said her husband, Sidney. "Everyone who has met her has been touched by her."
Dru would have graduated from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks this spring.
Rhonda Mareck, Brenny office manager and event planner, said messages continue to be sent to the family through the funeral home's Web site. She and Amy Anderson compiled the messages and put them in binders for Dru's family.
For Dru's parents, the messages of support are a testament to how Dru has continued to touch people's lives in death as she had in her life. Linda Walker said she reads every one of the letters and cards she has received but sometimes has to stop because it can become too painful.
"I have to take it in small doses," she said. "But I'm totally in awe of it all."
The family has shut down the message boards on their Web site, www.finddru.com, and will open another Web site that is more information-based that will be a celebration of Dru's life, as well as be used to bring about change in current sex offender laws.
"We're not going away," said Allan Sjodin. "We are all her voice. We continue to work for changes with her and through her. She can't be forgotten. This tragedy can't be forgotten. Anything we can do to help society, we'll do that."
Dru's parents plan to attend the trial of Alphonzo Rodriguez Jr., the Crookston Level 3 sex offender charged with their daughter's murder. His next court appearance is July 19. They said they are ready to move forward through this trial, no matter how painful it may be.
"What Dru went through is far worse than we've experienced in life," said Linda Walker.
Allan Sjodin said his emotions have been like a roller coaster, changing from minute to minute. He thinks of his only daughter often.
"She sits on my shoulder," he said.
"That's when she's not following me around," responded Linda Walker as she smiled at her ex-husband.
"It comes in waves," she added of her own emotions. "Some days it seems so surreal to not have her here. And some days I feel she's right beside me."
Walker said she could find forgiveness for Rodriguez in her heart.
"I have addressed that," she said of the possibility of forgiving Rodriguez. "To me, I can (forgive). It doesn't mean I'll forget or not have other emotions attached to it. I don't think about the perpetrator. I don't waste my time on that."
Dru's Legacy Garden is still in the planning stages in Pequot Lakes, as are other memorials like a scholarship fund at Pequot Lakes High School to remember Dru.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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