by: Jeff Smith Updated:
MOORESVILLE, N.C. - About 500 people gathered together Saturday afternoon to remember two teenagers who died while driving to watch the sunrise at Myrtle Beach.
Jake Ziegler, 18, and Ray Pierce, 17, had been missing for more than two weeks. Their families decided to hold a joint memorial service.
"The boys were best friends. They felt it was something that needed to be done for the community," said family friend Kevin Ryan.
Ziegler and Pierce were seniors at Bandys High School in Catawba County.
Hundreds of family members, friends, and classmates attended the service at the Cavin-Cook Funeral Home Chapel in Mooresville.
Family members hugged and cried, and then they released dozens of balloons into the clear blue sky.
"There was always a smile on both of their faces, and their attitudes are contagious," said Jackie Ziegler, who is Jake's older sister.
On Oct. 13, the teens decided to make the four-hour drive to Myrtle Beach to watch the sunrise. They weren't seen or heard from for 17 days--until investigators discovered the car and bodies in murky water off Interstate 20, near Columbia.
"The unknown possibilities were sickening. You couldn't sleep at night because you were wondering. And I think now we can start the healing process," Ziegler said.
An autopsy confirmed both teenagers drowned.
"The only thing that gets me through the days now are thinking about his smile and listening to his laughs on videos, and being surrounded by people that he affected in life," Ziegler said.
This week students spray painted both Ziegler and Pierce's parking spots in the high school parking lot.
I hope that he's proud of me," she said. "I know I didn't bring him home like I wanted to, but I hope he knows that I didn't stop at anything to bring him home."
Both families said there is now, at least, a sense of closure, so the healing process can begin.
Jake Ziegler's funeral also took place Saturday. The funeral for Ray Pierce was held Friday in Denver.