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Celebrating Sarah: Friends, family gather to remember life of NDSU student killed on service trip

Students who participated in the volunteer group Students Today Leaders Forever look over items that celebrate the life of Sarah Martinsen during a memorial service Monday evening at North Dakota State University. David Samson / The Forum

Hundreds of friends and family gathered Monday to celebrate the life of Sarah Martinsen.

The 21-year-old North Dakota State University junior was struck and killed by a Jeep while jogging last week during a spring break service trip in Pensecola, Fla.

And while the grief of her death was still new, her family encouraged the crowd to remember the happiness that Martinsen always found in life.

"I try to look at what's good, not what we've lost," said Martinsen's mother, Debra DeWitz. "We were lucky to have Sarah for 21 years, so that's what I'm going to focus on."

DeWitz spoke to the group just hours after returning from Florida, where she made preparations for Martinsen's return to Fargo as well as met with the driver in the accident.

DeWitz said the family does not hold the driver accountable and understood how the accident happened. She asked those in attendance to keep the driver in their prayers "because if there's (anyone) I would not want to be, it's not only my family, it's her family."

DeWitz thanked the other students on the Students Today Leaders Forever trip for giving Martinsen one of the best weeks of her life.

Pictures and other mementos of Martinsen were displayed during the gathering at NDSU, where friends and family were asked to share their stories of Martinsen.

Galit DeWitz, Martinsen's older sister, said she was moved by the number of people who came to celebrate her sister's life.

"I'm so excited that everyone realized how amazing Sarah was," she said. "To know how many lives she touched is just so exciting."

Martinsen, a sociology major from Minot, N.D., had planned to join the Peace Corps following college, and service was an important part of her life, said Connor Johnson, a close friend of Martinsen's.

Johnson, who also went on the trip, said the hardest part of returning to school this week was not having Martinsen next to him in classes Monday.

"She had a great smile, bright personality and a strong drive," he said. "Everyone else on this bus trip was touched by her and everyone fell in love with her. She was an amazing person."Celebrating Sarah: Friends, family gather to remember life of NDSU student killed on service trip