Halbach childhood photo

A childhood snapshot of Teresa Halbach is placed among candles, flowers and other mementos in front of St. John Sacred Heart Catholic Church and School in Sherwood on Nov. 11, 2005. Halbach attended the school as a child and coached seventh grade volleyball there as an adult. 

CRAIG SCHREINER -- State Journal archives

Whenever he needed to talk, Teresa Halbach was always there, her friend Ryan Hillegas remembered Saturday.

So now, Hillegas said Saturday, there seems nowhere to turn.

Halbach, 25, who disappeared on Halloween, is gone forever. Steven Avery, 43, is expected to be charged with her murder this week.

And those who cared deeply for her as a friend, a sister, a daughter, are struggling to come to grips with the idea of never hearing her voice again.

"She always seemed to be one of those people who knew what to tell you," Hillegas remembered. "I'm going to miss most just being able to sit down with her and talk. She was the person I'd go to for relationship advice. She provided my girl perspective on things."

In fact, in the close-knit group of young people whom Halbach socialized with, she was pretty much the one everybody sought counsel from when they were having problems.

Hillegas spoke of Halbach on Saturday morning from her rented Calumet County farmhouse, where he and another friend are staying to keep an eye on things. It was some comfort, he said, to be surrounded by his good friend's belongings, her photographs and her cat, Mila.

Many of Halbach's friends, in fact, have been gathering in the evenings at the old farmhouse to share memories and to be among the things that Teresa cared for. Such evenings together would surely have been directed by Halbach in trying times, said Kelly Pitzen, a friend from childhood.

"She was always the organizer," Pitzen remembered, "always the one bringing people together."

From these friends and others, from her artful photography and from the details of her life, comes a portrait of a caring and creative young woman gone long before her time.

From her childhood on the family dairy farm near St. John to her years in college at UW-Green Bay and her successful career as a freelance photographer, Halbach touched many in her 25 years.

Her friends all described her as being nearly always cheerful with a face built for smiling and laughter, adventurous and unafraid, and very serious about the responsibilities of friendship and family.

Several of her friends spoke of Halbach's talent as a photographer and said the images she captured said as much about her as about her subjects.

She called her business "Photography by Teresa" and she photographed weddings, children, families and graduates. On her Web site, she described her goal of capturing emotion in her photographs. On the page are tender, joyous images of a baby's tiny feet, a young couples' clasped hands, a brother and sister embracing.

Hillegas and Pitzen said they cannot look enough at the photographs Halbach leaves behind, the world seen through their lost friend's eyes.

"I look at the pictures on her walls," said Pitzen, "and I know the story behind every one of them."

Pitzen said her friendship with Halbach goes back to preschool. She said she will always remember her friend's smile, her sincerity, her willingness to drop everything when someone needed her.

"I want others to know that Teresa was always the kind of person that people just gravitated toward," Pitzen said. "She was always bubbly and smiling. And she was always there to listen. If you didn't go to her for advice, you could be sure she would search you down."

To a person, Halbach's friends also fondly remembered another surprising trait, one that says something about her enthusiasm for life and which made each of them laugh as they explained.

Halbach could not resist a karaoke stage. She was fabulous, Pitzen and Hillegas recalled, and became an absolute ham when she took the stage.

"I think she liked the freedom it gave her," Hillegas said. "She'd dance and point and play the character of the person in the song. We're all going to do a karaoke in her honor."

Sarah Kluth now lives in Chicago but has remained close to Halbach since the two met in college in Green Bay.

"I'll never forget her genuineness, her sincerity, and how she honestly loved people," Kluth said Saturday. "And she was such a faithful friend. I remember once I had to visit dairy farms for my job and I called Teresa and asked if she would go along and take some photographs. And there she was with her camera tromping through manure with me. It was just so cool to have a friend like that, who would laugh and say, I don't care where we are or what we're doing, I'm with you and that's what is important.' "

So powerful was the connection Halbach had with her friends that many of them have spent the last couple of weeks tirelessly searching for her.

Hillegas has done nothing else. He was the one who organized the searches and spent long days afield looking for his friend. It was what she would have done, he said.

The search is over now, of course. And updated news on the search has been replaced on the family's Web page with a poignant summation.

"It seems as though we have achieved our goal of finding Teresa," the note reads. "The hearts of our family go out to everyone who has a missing loved one or have had to cope with the murder of a family friend . . . We know we will see Teresa again in Heaven."

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