PASCAGOULA -- A funeral festival was held Saturday to celebrate the life of Jessie Bardwell, the Pascagoula native who authorities say was killed by her boyfriend while the couple was living together in Texas.
Her brother, Brandon Bardwell, collaborated with friends and relatives to organize the Love and Light Festival to keep a promise he'd made to his sister 10 years ago.
He and his sister had always enjoyed going out and listening to live music. One night, a conversation about funerals came up.
"We just wanted to have something other than a sad service," he said. "Ten years ago, we told each other, 'Whoever goes out first, the other one's going to throw them a dang festival.' So that's how this came about."
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In December, Jessie Bardwell had moved to Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. The 27-year-old former Ole Miss student was reported missing on Mother's Day by her father.
Police arrested her boyfriend, Jason Lowe, on a murder charge May 16, three days before authorities found her body dumped in a field in Farmersville, a rural town about 35 miles northeast of Richardson.
The Love and Light Festival, held at Pascagoula's River Park, consisted of a second-line parade, arts, and music from five bands. It followed a traditional funeral service at First Methodist Church.
Several dozen people, some coming from out-of-town, turned out for the festivities. Two of Jessie Bardwell's closest friends, Ashley Stewart and Travis Rogers, recalled an upbeat, free-spirited woman who loved to travel.
"She was the most loyal friend ever," Stewart said. "She was like light. She could be anywhere and fit in anywhere and was wanted everywhere."
Stewart said she misses hearing her friend's voice most of all.
"She traveled everywhere and made a hundred friends a day -- good friends, not just acquaintances," Stewart said.
Few if any of Jessie Bardwell's friends or relatives had met the man she was living with in Texas.
"Around Christmas, she just took off with this guy," her brother said. "When she left with him, she just kind of became secluded. I feel like she didn't know the company she was keeping."
Stewart and Rogers hadn't met Lowe, either, and they believe their friend somehow became caught up in an abusive relationship.
"This is so bizarre for her to have gotten into this situation," Rogers said. "It just shows how easily you can be manipulated -- even the strongest person like her, who was very street-smart."