BURLINGAME, Kan. — “Today, we’re saying goodbye to a dreamer,” Pastor Dan Muzzy said of 16-year-old Lauren Kahler. “Loving, positive, enthusiastic — we can be like her to make the lives of others better."
About 180 people gathered on a cold and windy Saturday morning to honor the lives of Lauren, her sister, Emily and their mother, Karen, at Federated Church in Burlingame, Kan. Family and friends packed the 13 rows of pews in the small church.
Karen, 44, and her two daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, were shot and killed on Nov. 28 in Burlingame. James Kraig Kahler, a former Columbia Water and Light director, is charged in the killings. Karen’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89, died Tuesday from injuries related to the shooting.
On two projector screens at the front of the church, a slide show featured black and white baby photos and more recent snapshots of the Kahlers.
Floral bouquets decorated the front of the church as an organ reverberated through the full room. Colorful banners reading “Glory to God in the highest” and “To God be the glory” hung on the walls.
Guests stood as the Kahlers’ family filed into the church. Some whispered among themselves and comforted those who were crying. Others sat quietly and without expression. The service began with scripture readings and a group reading of Psalm 23.
“As we try to make sense of a time like this, it’s often best to turn to God,” Muzzy said. “We thank you for the love they shared, for the gift of Karen, Lauren and Emily,” Muzzy prayed.
Framed pictures, memory books and mementos reminded attendees about the women's lives, and loved ones signed Lauren’s sous chef jacket. A Superman cape, electric guitar and tennis racket sat on a table at the front of the church.
Muzzy read remembrances compiled by family and friends and compared the beauty that Karen Kahler added to her loved ones' lives to a sunset's brilliance.
“Sometimes the colors of the sunset don’t last long enough, and only phrases and snapshots can capture its beauty,” Muzzy said.
With love for photography, camping and cooking pastries, Kahler pursued a wide range of interests during her 44 years of life. She took photos of everything and everyone and kept them in dozens of albums, Muzzy said.
Kahler was almost ready to pass out her annual photo calendar of collages for Christmas. When she died, she only had December left to make.
Kahler served as an active member of the Rotary Club in the family’s prior home of Weatherford, Texas. Whether selling Avon cosmetics door-to-door or perfecting the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme song on her banjo, Kahler put her whole heart into her actions, according to family recollections.
This fall, Kahler enrolled in the health science program at MU to become a physical therapist.
“The same sky will look different to each of us,” Muzzy said. “Let the beauty of the sunset tonight remind you of the beauty Karen brought to all of our lives.”
After the group sang “Amazing Grace,” Muzzy painted a picture of Emily’s 18 years from the perspective of her college roommate and friend, Sarah.
A freshman at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, Emily still considered Weatherford her home, said Muzzy.
“She would always talk about the No. 1 state in the country: Texas,” Muzzy said when reading Sarah’s memories.
“She was the strongest person I knew,” Sarah wrote. “I never saw so much love in a family.”
Muzzy then played a recording of Natalie Grant’s contemporary Christian song “Held.” He described Lauren through the eyes of her family members.
“She was a woman of many hats, both figuratively and literally.” Whether sporting berets or costume top hats, Lauren impressed those around her with her caring heart, sense of humor and commitment to academics.
Dubbed “a beacon of positivity” and a person of “contagious joy” by her friends, Lauren enjoyed tennis, swimming and playing the bass in the rock band Daze Off.
Lauren loved to read and turn her friends on to her favorite books.
After an hour, the service closed with the playing of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Casting Crowns and a final prayer by Muzzy. Guests gathered in the church basement for food and fellowship following the service.