DORSET, Vt. — Sandy Casey was remembered Tuesday by the people who knew her best — family, friends and loved ones — as a compassionate teacher and loyal friend with a sense of humor, a commitment to her calling as a special education teacher, and a personality that lit up any room she entered.
Casey, who was among the victims of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, was laid to rest Tuesday following a celebration of her life at the United Church of Dorset and East Rupert in Dorset, Vermont.
Casey, 35, lived in Redondo Beach, California, and taught in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District as a middle school special education teacher.
The Rev. Dr. James Gray and loved ones who spoke touched on Casey’s spirit and commitment to reaching children who needed extra help to achieve their goals.
At one point, Gray held up a seashell that one of Casey’s young students had turned into a piece of art with smaller glued-on shells and glitter.
“It came from one of Sandy’s students — a little girl who hardly spoke a word ever,” Gray said. “Sandy reached through the walls that surrounded this little girl. To Sandy, she spoke. Somehow Sandy had that special touch to connect with this needy student.”
“She has touched us and claimed a spot in our hearts forever,” he said. “Even though her body is no longer with us, her spirit is alive.”
Kristi Hansen, who worked with Casey at a Vermont high school, fought back tears as she described how Casey instilled confidence, poise and respect in her students.
“You left behind young men and women who knew how to be kind and considerate and respectful of others,” Hansen said of her friend.
Casey’s fiance, Chris Willemse, was also among those offering readings and personal remembrances.
“This loss is huge. But during this time I learned what family really means,” Willemse said.
“She taught me what it meant to love her parents,” he said. “I gained a mother and a father out of this.”
Willemse and Casey got engaged in the spring during a trip to New Zealand.
“I loved her. She was my rock. She was my soul,” he said. “And now I have a gap to fill. That gap will never be filled. I will only live to make her proud.”
Well-wishers arrived as much as 90 minutes before the 11 a.m. service, filling the pews and balcony of the small church. Inside, they found enlarged photos of Casey on display, with Casey flashing her generous and reassuring smile in each and every one.
Casey loved offbeat, corny jokes, and she would laugh at them herself until everyone was laughing along with her, Hansen and others recalled.
“She was quirky. You always had to laugh because she laughed at herself and it was contagious,” Willemse said.
Family friend Paul Guay, an uncle to Casey and her sisters “not through blood, but by love,” remembered Casey as a girl who was full of curiosity and enthusiasm. He said she was capable of organizing her sisters into a dance team that would perform for the family after dinner, and full of the compassion needed to be a special education teacher who “understood the value of people and that everyone could succeed.”
“An hour ago I gave her my last goodbyes,” Guay said. ” I held her hand and whispered how much I loved her I feel blessed that I got to spend every one of her 35 years with her.”
Before the service, the country music that Casey loved played softly as well-wishers took their seats. The service began with Casey’s cousin Katie Lawrence singing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel.”
It also included the Dorset Church Choir singing Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” and “Amazing Grace” as performed by the choir and by bagpiper Edward Hunter, a family friend.
Reach Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.