Saying goodbye to Mitch MacLean

Dianne MacLean gave a moving tribute to her son as she fought back tears. Her boy, she said, had a beautiful smile. He was quiet and shy. He had a ton of great friends who always had his back as he had theirs.

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 22, 2011
12222011 Highway Shooting

Published on 22 December 2011

Friends of Mitch MacLean leave his funeral at Winsloe United Church in Winsloe on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. MacLean, fellow player Tanner Craswell and Tabitha Stepple of Lethbridge, Alta. were killed in a roadside shooting in Alberta last week.

Photos by Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

12222011 Highway Shootings

Published on 22 December 2011

riends of Mitch MacLean arrive at his funeral at Winsloe United Church in Winsloe, P.E.I. on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. MacLean, fellow player Tanner Craswell and Tabitha Stepple of Lethbridge, Alta. were killed in a roadside shooting in Alberta last week.

Photos by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

20111221 MacLean funeral

Published on 22 December 2011

Pallbearers at Mitch MacLean's funeral Thursday wore ballcaps to honour the 20-year-old baseball player shot and killed in a multiple murder-suicide last week.

Photos by Guardian photo

12222011 Highway Shootings

Published on 22 December 2011

Friends of Mitch MacLean leave at his funeral at Winsloe United Church in Winsloe on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. MacLean, fellow player Tanner Craswell and Tabitha Stepple of Lethbridge, Alta. were killed in a roadside shooting in Alberta last week.

Photos by Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

20111222 MacLean funeral

Published on 22 December 2011

Pallbearers at Mitch MacLean's funeral Thursday wore ballcaps to honour the 20-year-old baseball player shot and killed in a multiple murder-suicide last week.

Photos by Guardian photo

12222011 Highway shootings

Published on 22 December 2011

Family and friends of Mitch MacLean attend his funeral at Winsloe United Church in Winsloe, P.E.I. on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. MacLean, fellow player Tanner Craswell and Tabitha Stepple of Lethbridge, Alta. were killed in a roadside shooting in Alberta last week.

Photos by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

12222011 Highway shootings

Published on 22 December 2011

Friends and family of Mitch MacLean gather outside his funeral at Winsloe United Church in Winsloe, P.E.I. on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. MacLean, fellow player Tanner Craswell and Tabitha Stepple of Lethbridge, Alta. were killed in a roadside shooting in Alberta last week.

Photos by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Charlottetown Islanders

Published on 13 July 2010

Mitch MacLean, pitcher for the Charlottetown Islanders keeps an eye on the ball as he throws to a batter for the Moncton Mets Tuesday night in Charlottetown during action in the New Brunswick Sdenior Baseball League. (Guardian photo by Brian McInnis)

Photos by Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

CATCH

Published on 19 December 2011

Keith Craswell participates in a game of catch in memory of his son Tanner and Mitch MacLean.

Photos by Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

CATCH

Published on 19 December 2011

Keith Craswell, left, speaks to a youth who appears overcome with emotion as they attended a memorial at Colonel Gray Monday. The memorial was held for Tanner Craswell and Mitch MacLean

Photos by Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Alberta murder

Published on 19 December 2011

Keith Craswell, in black jacket, is consoled by a friend during a memorial held in Charlottetown Monday in memory of his son Tanner and Mitch MacLean. The giant game of catch was organized by the staff and students of Colonel Gray senior high school in memorial of the former students who were killed in Alberta.

Photos by Brian McInnis/TC Media

12162011 Alberta

Published on 16 December 2011

Grounds crew members Remington Pullin and Mitch MacLean, right, paint the left field foul line at Canola Harvest Field as they prepare the ball park for the Prairie Minor Little League Baseball Championships in July of this year.

Photos by Lethbridge Herald photo by Ian Martens

While Mitch MacLean, a young man with so much promise on and off the baseball field died in a horrific tragedy, the game is far from over.

Rev. Eric Lynk told the more than 500 people that had filled Winsloe United Church Thursday morning in order to celebrate the 20-year-old MacLean's life that the "elusive closure'' sought by so many will never be found.

Friends and family, he said, do not close the file on the life of a remarkable man who was remembered at the funeral for being fiercely competitive yet humble, the life of the party, a jokester, loyal friend and a true champion of the underdog.

"We do not finally seal shut our relationship and pick up and go on as if nothing has happened and life is the same,'' said Lynk. "Our reality is that for us life will never be the same because of this day.''

Lynk said no sense could be made of the horrendous event that ended the North Winsloe native's life. MacLean was one of four young people shot last week in the early morning hours of Dec. 15 just outside Claresholm, Alberta.

His good friend Tanner Craswell, 22, and Tabitha Stepple, were shot and killed by Stepple's ex-boyfriend, Derek Jensen. Jensen also injured Shayna Conway, 21, and later turned the gun on himself.

"And while our focus today is on Mitch, we acknowledge from the outset that others are dealing with deep grief,'' said Lynk.

"In our prayers today we shall remember Keith and Cindy - Tanner Craswell's parents...We hold in prayer Shayna Conway as she begins the long process of recovering from her injuries.''

In sharp contrast to the funeral service for Stepple in Lethbridge Wednesday where no mention was made of the killer, Lynk said it was time also to remember the family of Derek Jenson.

"A family whose shock and grief has left them so shaken that, like us, they can barely deal with what has happened,'' he said.

Clearly, though, the focus of Thursday's service was to honour the life of MacLean and to grieve his untimely death.

"Every one of us would rather be almost anywhere but here today,'' said Lynk.

"It is never easy to confront death. It is particularly hard to deal with the death of a young person on the threshold of realizing a dream; even more difficult because of the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Mitch and his friends; and, somehow, our sadness and grief is further compounded because it is Christmas.''

Lynk said MacLean's parents, Dianne and Irwin, have endured a week of intense emotion.

The MacLean family acknowledged that words cannot adequately express the debt of thanks they owe to so many who have surrounded them with love and supported and comforted them in countless ways.

Dianne MacLean gave a moving tribute to her son as she fought back tears.

Her boy, she said, had a beautiful smile. He was quiet and shy. He had a ton of great friends who always had his back as he had theirs.

Mitch, who was in Lethbridge honing his baseball skills, so wanted to be a professional ball player, she said.

And, said mom, if Mitch wanted something badly enough, he put his heart and soul into getting it.

Dianne captured both her son's love and talent for the game in a poem called "Last Time at the Plate'' that she wrote and read during her tribute.

"I thought her poem was very touching and moving,'' said Mary Beth Bradley, who taught Mitch at Colonel Gray high school in Charlottetown.

"She's a stoic, strong lady, but it's hard to put all this into words and make sense of it...it's just such a senseless, horrible thing to try to comprehend.''

Teammates paid tribute to MacLean by donning bright red ball caps.

Lynk gathered a few days ago with about two dozen of MacLean's friends. He shared many of their thoughts Thursday.

Mitch, they said, was rarely seen without a smile. He fancied himself a great singer and a better dancer. He could really party.

He was a true and loyal friend to many.

He was as happy when one of his friends reached a goal or accomplished a task as if he had done it himself.

"He rejoiced in their successes and comforted them in their failures and encouraged them to do only their best,'' said Lynk. "Perhaps that is why so many considered Mitch to be more of a brother than a friend.''

He was also a leader and a team player. And simply a great ball player.

This is how Lynk set up singer/songwriter John Fogarty's homage to baseball called Centrefield that, fittingly, capped off the moving service:

"I guess there is just one more thing to say: Put him in coach, he's ready to play.''