Beverly Spofford of Hebron holds a scrapbook about her granddaughter, Karen Wrentzel. A hunter has been charged with the shooting death of Wrentzel on Oct. 28, 2017. Credit: John Holyoke

HEBRON, Maine — In the front yard of Beverly Spofford’s mobile home, a solitary white oak tree and a memorial stone sit not far from the woods where her granddaughter, Karen Wrentzel, spent so much time clearing land, digging rocks and cutting down trees.

On Sunday, a year to the day after the 34-year-old Wrentzel was shot and killed in those same woods, about 20 family members and friends gathered at Spofford’s home to remember the woman many described as unique, and to urge hunters to be cautious in the woods.

The Maine Warden Service says Wrentzel was shot by deer hunter Robert Trundy, 39, of Hebron. He pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and failure to render aid in January. A status conference in the case is scheduled for Nov. 9, and a trial date may be set during that meeting.

If convicted of manslaughter, Trundy would face up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. He could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison and face a fine of up to $5,000 for failure to render aid. He would be legally barred from possessing firearms for the rest of his life if convicted on either charge.

The past year has been tough on Wrentzel’s family, including her grandmother. But her presence remains strong.

Spofford now takes care of Shota, a cat that Wrentzel had owned since she was 18. Spofford swears that for weeks, Shota would wake her up by meowing what sounded like “KA-REN … KA-REN.”

And on the day Wrentzel was shot, a man stopped and asked why emergency personnel and law enforcement officers were on the road. Spofford explained that her granddaughter had been killed, and the man left.

“The next day he came in and said he likes to plant white oak trees because they’re becoming extinct in Maine, and he wanted to know if we’d let him give us a tree in honor of her,” Spofford said.

A few days later, while looking through Wrentzel’s belongings, Spofford found an undated, handwritten note that contained instructions to be followed after her death.

“I would love for each person who loved me to plant a tree and tend it and love it, and for whomever loved me most to plant a pine or oak with my ashes, in a place I love, with a small [plaque] preventing it from being cut down,” Wrentzel wrote.

That’s exactly what they did, with each family member participating.

“Her ashes are in [the ground where the tree was planted],” her uncle Jon Spofford said. “We all put our hands in it so we could do something weird.”

Wrentzel, nearly everyone agreed, was her own special kind of “weird.” And they loved her for it.

“She was nuts in all of the best ways,” her brother, Jeremy Wrentzel of Auburn, said. “She was always positive. Everywhere she went, people loved her. She could walk into a room and walk out five minutes later, and she was friends with everyone for the rest of their lives.”

Her younger cousins remember spending time with Karen Wrentzel in the woods where she died, camping out or watching her clear the land.

One, 15-year-old Isabelle Spofford of South Paris, posted a hunting safety message on her Facebook page. Another, Arianna Durepos, 15, of Hebron, wrote an essay that talks about all the things she remembers and loves about Karen.

“I remember the time you set up your 10-person tent, and we all slept in it, falling asleep while you told us stories,” Durepos said, reading the essay aloud as relatives munched snacks and sipped coffee on Sunday. “I remember your big bear hugs that hurt sometimes because you were so bony.”

The family also reached out to a Portland TV station to try to reinforce a safety message.

“When my mother called me at work on that horrible day last year, she said, almost apologetically, ‘We didn’t know it was hunting season,’” wrote Debbie Morin of Lewiston, Wrentzel’s mother. “I remember shouting, screaming, that I didn’t give a [blank] what she was wearing. YOU DON’T SHOOT PEOPLE.”

Beverly Spofford said she hopes hunters pay close attention to their message, in hopes that someone else avoids making a permanent mistake.

“We can’t bring her back. But maybe someone else can be spared,” she said.

Family members say one online headline misinterpreted their mood, and said they’re bitter. They’re not, everyone agreed. When asked to provide another description, one suggestion was “wronged.” Another: “robbed.”

Morin’s choice: “Empty.” Life is empty without her vibrant daughter.

But on Sunday, amid a few tears, there was genuine laughter as grateful relatives remembered the good times and the special way Wrentzel treated them all.

Not that it’s been easy.

“Every day, you just push it down so you can go to work and smile,” Morin said. “At the end of the day, you cry all the way home from work. It’s always there. But we’re getting there.”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...