ESCALON -- Family and friends laid Laci and Conner Peterson to rest Friday.
Those assembled gazed silently skyward as two doves took flight, followed by 20 more. The flock wheeled twice above the cemetery before winging north, fading into specks of ivory on blue.
Quiet enveloped the gravesite. Some cried. Many held hands.
"The two were Laci and Conner. The rest were angels sent to help follow them to heaven," Laci Peterson's stepfather, Ron Grantski, said after the funeral. "This is hard, but it's supposed to be hard."
About 250 people attended the private burial for the Modesto woman and the unborn child whom she carried at the time of her disappearance at Christmastime. The community joined in massive search efforts, and people across the nation kept up hope for the dimpled 27-year-old who was eight months pregnant.
Bodies of mother and son were found in mid-April along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
Authorities arrested Peterson's husband, Scott, a few days later, charging him with killing his wife and son. The 30-year-old fertilizer salesman faces the death penalty if convicted on both murder counts. He maintains his innocence.
His parents apparently were not among the mourners in a long procession that wound behind two white limousines carrying Laci Peterson's family and white-gloved pallbearers to Burwood Cemetery after a service at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto.
"Laci represents every daughter whose mother has had to bury her," the Rev. Joseph Illo said during the service. "In Laci's death, we come face to face with our own death -- her suffering is our suffering."
That suffering struck some Friday as particularly bitter.
"If any death was senseless, Laci's was," Illo said in his sermon. "Why did she and Conner die? What insanity drove the killer to destroy such beauty and such life? A young mother and her son. For this there is no direct answer."
Anger tinged the pain as Grantski addressed mourners before Laci and Conner were laid to rest in a single casket.
"She was the light of my life," he said. "The animal that did this to her is going to pay."
After the funeral, Adam Stewart, an attorney representing Laci Peterson's family, made a request for her relatives: Give them privacy, time to mourn.
The toll on her mother, Sharon Rocha, has been steep, but she is persevering Grantski said.
"She's been amazing through this," he said after the funeral. "She did the arrangements herself. She wanted to."
A public memorial service on May 4 drew about 3,000 people. Coroner's officials did not release the bodies until Aug. 22.
Friday's private funeral included a recipe for happy life, drawing some tears and knowing nods from mourners who knew of Laci Peterson's passion for cooking.
Stanislaus and San Joaquin county sheriff's deputies in dark suits stood discreetly across the cemetery throughout the 30-minute service.
Afterward, mourners drifted away in the early afternoon, leaving a new grave blanketed with sunflowers and lilies.
Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or email@example.com.