The brother and sister who wondered for 43 years where she was.
The websleuth and police sergeant who helped find her remains.
The high school friend who named her daughter in honor of her missing friend.
They were among the 30 people who attended a memorial service Thursday for Linda Marie Pagano, an Akron teen who disappeared 44 years ago and whose remains weren’t identified until last year.
“It feels like tons and tons of weight lifted off — finally,” Mike Pagano, Linda’s brother, said after the service at Adams Mason Funeral Home in Akron. “Now, it’s just the memories left to cherish.”
Linda Pagano, 17, was last seen in September 1974 when she returned home late from a concert and had an argument with her stepfather, who threw her out of the house. DNA tests confirmed last July that Pagano’s remains had been buried in a pauper’s grave in Cleveland. Pagano’s death was ruled a homicide, and investigators haven’t determined who was responsible.
Mike and Cheryl Pagano, Linda’s older sister and brother, planned the service to honor a life cut short. If she had lived, Linda would now be 61.
Inside the funeral home, the family displayed a school photo of Linda, along with a couple of snapshots showing her hugging a dog, standing on a diving board and showing off a new dress. Beside the photos sat Linda’s favorite teddy bear and the shiny silver urn with the teen’s cremains.
Before the service, Mike and Cheryl greeted several of Linda’s friends as they arrived. That included Susan Sigman, Linda’s best friend, who attended the service with her daughter, who was named after Linda and is now an adult.
“It’s hard …” Sigman said, her voice trailing off. “I guess it was easier all those years not knowing what happened to her. I thought I would hear from her. I’m glad she’s going to be home. It’s better than an unmarked grave somewhere.”
Tracey Davis, a classmate of Linda’s at Springfield High School, remembers Linda as a bubbly girl who had lots of friends. Davis said Springfield alumni hung a photo of Linda at reunions with “Missing” above it.
“I like the idea of somebody finally making it home,” she said.
The service featured remarks by Elder Anne Gadson, a friend of the Paganos, who led those who attended in singing “Amazing Grace,” provoking tears from several people. She invited anyone who wanted to speak to come to the podium but no one did.
Gadson said she talked with Cheryl and Mike and learned that Linda was loved by everyone who knew her, would do anything for anyone and adored animals. She said Cheryl would pay Linda not to tell on her when she was bad and Linda would take the money — and then still tattle.
“I like Linda,” Gadson said, earning laughter from the family. “If she played her cards right, she could have made a fortune off of Cheryl.”
Gadson said her daughter once ran away and was missing for two and a half days and it drove her crazy. She can’t imagine what it would be like to go more than four decades not knowing what happened to a loved one.
Gadson thanked Christina Scates, a genealogist and websleuth whose questions prompted Pagano’s unidentified remains to be put into the national missing persons database, and Sgt. Jeff Smith, who entered Pagano’s missing person report into this database, getting a hit on the remains buried in Cleveland.
Gadson said the identification of Pagano’s remains, however, still leaves those who loved her with many questions, including who killed her.
“We wonder why God would allow this tragedy,” Gadson said. “We don’t know the answer and we don’t know the reason — at least not now.”
Smith said the service helped provide the Pagano family and those who worked on Linda’s case, including him, with closure. He said it also invigorated him to try to solve more of Akron’s long-pending missing persons cases.
Scates said she’s proud of the part she played in helping find Linda and bring her home.
“I intend to try to do something further with this,” said Scates, who is taking a forensics course.
Mike Pagano called Scates an angel sent from God.
“I figured I wouldn’t know until I died,” he said of his sister’s disappearance. “God finally answered a prayer.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter:@swarsmithabj.