MIDLAND, Texas — It's been nearly a week since police found Madeline Pantoja dead in Midland as the 20-year-old woman went missing for 10 days, leading to a city-wide search. On Thursday night, her family and friends gathered on what would have been her 21st birthday.
Many in the community came together to honor Madeline during a prayer ceremony as loved ones placed flowers near a memorial for her.
Baby pink was a color Madeline loved, and that was one of many ways she was represented Thursday night with a balloon release that concluded the ceremony.
"I think it was just a way of showing her, of showing how much she touched everybody's hearts," said Madeline's cousin Myri Benavides. "It was a way to celebrate her even though she's no longer here with us. It was a way to show us how much we love her and will continue loving her throughout eternal life."
Benavides said that Madeline deserved a gathering like the one she got, and spoke on the kind of person she was.
"It was always her smile, her endless smile, her endless laughs," said Benavides. "She could be serious for five minutes and she would just end up making everybody laugh. She was just a sweet soul, she was so loving. She would take five minutes out of her day to be there for absolutely anybody that needed it, and I know that she still would've continued to do that if she was still here with us."
Benavides noted that they were grateful for the support that came out Thursday night. During what was an emotional evening, she also mentioned that they were grateful for the time that they spent with Madeline.
Madeline's burial service will take place Friday at 11 A.M. at Ellis Resthaven Funeral Home & Memorial Park in Midland, and a memorial mass will be held for her Saturday at 9 A.M. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Midland.