Though loved ones finally received closure, her absence is still greatly felt.
Since his daughter disappeared a year ago, Wayne Matula has a daily ritual to cope with his loss.
Every day, he comes home from work, opens up the laptop where her smiling face is the desktop background, and plays the video from her memorial. Every day, the video’s slide show of photos tell Mandy Matula’s life story — first, the baby photos, then her posing in middle school in a green Girl Scout vest. Another one shows her smiling with her brother at Christmas. Years later, she’s in a softball uniform.
“This brings her to life,” Wayne Matula said, watching the slide show that still makes him emotional. “It keeps her memory alive.”
A year ago, the disappearance of 24-year-old Mandy Matula on May 1 captivated the Twin Cities. She was the third metro-area woman to go missing in five months. Of the women at the heart of three high-profile cases, Matula was missing the longest, sending hundreds of neighbors, University of Minnesota Duluth classmates and Eden Prairie friends scouring the west metro for any sign of her. Her remains were finally found last fall in a park near St. Cloud.
Now, the TV cameras have gone. The friends who packed their house with hugs and meals have gone. But the grief remains.
In fact, time stands still in their Eden Prairie home — Mandy’s purple bedroom, with its mix of Barbie dolls and softball medals, remains untouched. The living room has become a shrine to her with photos of her smiling face filling it.
Poster-board photos of her high school senior portrait and a 2007 Star Tribune story highlighting her pitching skills cover the mantel. Dead, dry purple flowers surround the urn with her ashes. Foam shaped in her favorite number, 14, once full of carnations, has a few browned flowers remaining.
“We’re not just forgetting her,” Wayne Matula said. “It’s still part of us. We live this every day. And for me, it will always be that way.”
‘Glad it’s over’
For the grieving father, it’s therapeutic to talk about and live among the constant reminders of life without Mandy, replaying the memorial video every day. For her mother, Lisa, it’s more difficult to talk about: she declines most media interviews.
“I cry every day,” she said. “I just can’t believe she’s gone. I still want to believe she’ll walk through the door.”
Younger brother Steven has moved on to what he says is a new normal in life, working as a mechanic at City Hall, where his sister once worked as a seasonal park maintenance worker.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” he said of the searches.
For nearly six months, the shy sibling stoically represented his family in the media and at the dozens of searches he led. He started a Facebook page to spread the word about other missing Minnesotans — a page the 22-year-old still fills with photos of children, men and women when they go missing, and alerts when they’re found safe. He wants to be a resource, he says, for others going through similar ordeals.
“It’s exhausting,” he said of organizing searches.
That’s why this weekend the family will quietly reflect, taking a difficult trip to the park where her remains were found in a shallow grave.
“It’s a moment of reflection … forever that will be her grave site,” Wayne Matula said.
Months of searching