ROCHESTER, Mich (WXYZ) — It was a final goodbye and a moment of closure. Hundreds of Brendan Santo's family, friends and community members gathered to remember the life of a teenager gone too soon.
“Brendan touched so many people, even people that never even met him,” Santo's aunt Dawn Brewer said.
Like many of her family members, Brewer has spent nearly every day of the last three months searching for her nephew. She posted fliers, organized volunteers and helped start a Facebook group called Bring Brendan Home that grew to over 45,000 members.
“The amount of support our family has gotten is just crazy,” Brewer said. “For this many people to come together for someone they didn't even know, it really gives me a lot of faith in humanity.”
That support finally led to a result when less than a week ago, Santo’s body was found in the Red Cedar River, a mile and a half from where he was last seen.
“Obviously, not the outcome that we wanted, but at least we know where he is," Brewer said. "We know he’s safe now and we don’t have to wonder.”
But Brewer says their search efforts are not over. The Facebook group she helped start now has been re-named Brendan’s Legacy. Its members are now sharing stories of other missing people, so they too get the same support and hopefully are found.
“Every family that has a missing person deserves that and we’re going to keep that going for Brendan,” Brewer said.
Santo's family says the 18-year-old was always looking out for others. Whether through sports or his love for animals, he found ways to spread kindness and give back.
Now, in this final moment of closure comes the beginning of a new mission and a legacy that will live forever.
“Our family will be internally grateful for the support that we got and we just want to keep this going for other families," Brewer said. “We’re going to help every way we can to make sure that Brendan’s legacy lives on.”
After the visitation, the family plans to hold a private funeral and burial at a later date. In lieu of flowers, they’ve asked for donations to local first responders and animal shelters in Brendan’s name.