Cooper Nemeth celebration of life held in Winnipeg

Hundreds of Cooper Nemeth's friends and family members gathered at Calvary Temple in Winnipeg on Monday to celebrate the 17-year-old's life.

'We will be strong and we will go on,' says Brent Nemeth, Cooper's father

Hundreds of Cooper Nemeth's friends and family members gathered at Calvary Temple in Winnipeg on Monday to celebrate the 17-year-old's life. 1:33

Hundreds of Cooper Nemeth's friends and family members gathered at Calvary Temple in Winnipeg on Monday to celebrate the 17-year-old's life. 
Cooper Nemeth's celebration of life began at 3 p.m. on Monday at Calvary Temple in Winnipeg. (CBC)

A wreath of red flowers in the shape of a heart, a hockey jersey, stick and Nemeth's ice skates were placed in front of mourners, who were seated quietly in pews.

Pastor Bruce Martin began Monday's service by addressing Nemeth's parents and siblings.

"God bless you and your family," he said to them.

Martin acknowledged Nemeth's teammates and told them to use the service as a moment to gain perspective. He wished them luck in the playoffs.

Many young people in attendance wore hockey jerseys as a nod to Nemeth's love of the game. He played with the River East Marauders.

"He told me he loved feeling the wind in his face as he skated down the ice," said Brent Nemeth, Cooper Nemeth's father.

He addressed Nemeth's friends and said they will always have a place at their home.

"The garage is always open, the fridge is always full and you can talk to me," said Nemeth.

"Tough days are ahead and we know that. But we will be strong and we will go on.... Remember Cooper for the way he lived, and not the tragic and senseless way he died."

Mourners arrive at Cooper Nemeth's service. At least 1000 friends and family gathered Monday to pay their respects to the teen.

Nemeth was reported missing Feb. 14. After days of searching across Winnipeg, his body was found on Bayne Crescent on Feb. 20.

Nicholas Bell-Wright has been charged with second-degree murder in the case. Police have said the incident was drug-related.

Nemeth's aunt, Laresa Sayles, who helped co-ordinate hundreds of people in the search for her nephew, said the family has an uphill battle before them.
Cooper Nemeth remains were found on Feb. 20. (CBC)

"This whole year is going to be absolutely horrible, but we're going to just take it one day at a time, and do what we can as a family, and keep busy and give back to the community who gave so much to us when we were in search of him," Sayles said.

Despite the nature of the tragedy and the challenges that lie ahead, Sayles said Monday's service was about coming together to remember the positive impact Nemeth made on their lives.

"We're going to celebrate Cooper's life and be together as a family, and friends and community," she said ahead of the service. "The end result isn't of course what we wanted and it's not going to be an easy road."

During the service, a close family friend and Nemeth's old hockey coach told stories and read memories submitted by Nemeth's teammates of the funny things he did on the ice and in the dressing room, and the traditions that Cooper's family has that won't be the same without him.

Andrew Skogen, who called Cooper the most "memorable kid" he's ever coached, recounted how the teen blew an air horn in the dressing room during a pep-talk between periods, getting everyone 'fired up' enough to go on and win the game.

A slide-show of photos of Cooper from a baby to a teen played to The Scientist by Coldplay, Forever Young and Wiz Khalifa's See you Again.

The service closed with everyone singing "Amazing Grace."

The pastor asked mourners to 'be still' in coping with Nemeth's loss and asked the young people to make good choices going forward. He said when speaking to Nemeth's mother before the ceremony, she said Nemeth was a "good kid," who recently "just seemed to get on the wrong path." 

"Every one of us in this room has made bad choices...and not paid for it with our lives," said Martin. He said he feels the loss of Nemeth deep in his heart.

Nemeth's old coach said people would heal, but life would never be the same.

"Maybe when your buddies are on a breakaway, you'll help them out a little bit. We love you buddy. We're never going to forget. Rest in Paradise," he said.

Nemeth's obituary states that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in the teen's name to the Dianne Woods Memorial Player Assistance Fund with Hockey Winnipeg, to KidSport Winnipeg, or by contacting James Favel with the Bear Clan Patrol.
Cooper Nemeth's aunt Laresa Sayles fights through tears as she speaks with reporters on Feb. 22 at a smudging ceremony for her nephew. The event was put on by the Bear Clan Patrol, a North End group that helped look for the 17-year-old. (CBC)