FAIRFIELD, Ohio - After 20 months of searching, hoping and agonizing, Katelyn Markham's friends and family had to face the grim reality Thursday that she would not be coming home alive.
It was heartbreaking.
Kaite Lewis, a friend of Markham's from Fairfield High School and a former next-door neighbor, told 9 On Your Side's Tom McKee she could hardly bear the news when she heard that Markham's remains had been discovered about 30 miles away in a dump pile in rural Indiana.
"I immediately started crying. I don't even remember the first thought that went through my mind," said Lewis. "Last night, I got no sleep. My phone was going off and there were a lot of tears and a lot of crying for a very sad outcome to a very sad story."
Lewis remembered Markham as "nice … sweet … outgoing."
"The world was a better place with her in it," Lewis said.
Lewis was among the hundreds of searchers who looked for Markham in the days after she was reported missing.
"I was one of the first people out there searching. I hoped we would find her alive. I still held out hope that we would find her alive up until [Wednesday] night," she said.
That's when reality set in that her friend was gone.
"No one deserves to be left like a piece of trash on the side of the road," Lewis said.
Dave Rader, who organized and led the search for Markham after she disappeared in 2011, took the news hard and said Markham's father was "devastated."
"I think what he's trying to do is keeping his younger daughter as normal as possible. He has her feelings to consider," Rader said of Dave Markham.
Across the street from Markham's house, Stacie Owens swept the sidewalk and spoke about how the community is 100 percent behind the Markham family.
"My prayers go out to them because it's horrible. I hope they get answers and justice that they deserve," Owens said.
Prayers for the family and comfort for his congregation were also on the mind of Pastor David Williams of the Hamilton West Baptist Church. That's where a prayer vigil and balloon release was held for Markham two years ago.
"I explain to them that bad things happen in this world and that sometimes things happen that we don't want to happen. But that doesn't mean we give up having hope. Just because bad things happen, it really helps us to recognize the good things even more," Williams said.
Lewis said she was thinking of planning a memorial for Markham – perhaps at the overlook in Harbin Park in Fairfield, one of Katelyn's favorite places.
"I'm thinking of a plaque or a park bench where people can go to remember her and they don't have to go to her grave," Lewis said.