By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was a somber Thursday night in a small central Minnesota town as mourners gathered to say goodbye to little girl.

A visitation was held for Alayna Ertl, The 5-year-old died last weekend. A family friend, Zachary Anderson, is charged with kidnapping and killing her.

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Even from the outside of the funeral home, there were special reminders of a life lost but not forgotten. For hours, a line stretched around the block to support those lucky enough to know Alayna Ertl.

The Rowans live next door to Alayna’s family.

“I can’t believe her heart could fit in that little body it was so big,” Jenny Rowan said.

The family says they’re devastated, but so thankful to countless people offering comfort. While they all seemed to know Zachary Anderson, they said they saw no signs of what he’s accused of being capable of.

A sense of security seems to be gone in the town of less than 1,000, as parents try to keep things as normal as possible for their own kids.

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“I think when school starts and Alayna isn’t there, that’s going to be when they realize,” Jenny Rowan said.

Dawn Kuechle won’t be able to be Alayna’s kindergarten teacher now.

“She was going to be in my classroom,” Kuechle said.

She will, however, make sure her students remember the girl with the unmistakable grin she wore almost from the start.

“She will always be a part of my class, and a part of my heart is always going to be with her. Always,” Kuechle said.

Alayna’s funeral will begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Watkins. A GoFundMe account has raised more than $60,000 for the Ertl family. An account at Farmers State Bank has also been set up to help:

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Alayna Ertl Memorial Fund
Farmers State Bank of Watkins
170 Meeker Ave N
PO Box 490
Watkins, MN 55389

Liz Collin