Loved ones remember teen found dead after days-long search

Family members, friends and supporters gather beside the grave of Jai Bornstein on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017, in Bakersfield, Calif. Bornstein was found in Hart Park Saturday afternoon. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Funeral services were held for the Bakersfield teenager who had been the target of several days of searching.

The family said 19-year-old Jai Bornstein's body was found Dec. 31 in Hart Park. So far, authorities have not officially identified the body, and the coroner's office has not released information on the cause of death.

But, loved ones said it was Bornstein, and they held a traditional Jewish funeral ceremony for her on Monday afternoon. They talked about her life, and what she had accomplished.

"The way that the community and the family can honor Jai's life is to continue the dialogue about acceptance for the trans community and trans youth," family friend Ambar Carlisle. "Young people need to feel loved and accepted."

Family spokeswoman Audrey Chavez said Bornstein was an advocate for the LGBTQ community.

"Absolutely, she was out as being someone who was a trans person, she was also a major advocate for the population," Chavez said.

Volunteers had put in many hours looking for Bornstein when she was reported missing on Dec. 27, and Chavez said they had information that an Uber driver had dropped off Bornstein in the park area.

When the missing-person report was issued, authorities had identified Bornstein as a biological male "who identifies as female."

At the funeral, Bornstein's mother spoke of her "beautiful child who was deeply loved by family, friends and the community."

The mother said Bornstein was a gentle and kind spirit who wanted to be an educator or counselor.

The family issued a message saying they don't want Bornstein's death to be the end of her story.

"Remember how hard she worked to encourage people to hear the stories and needs of trans people," the message said. "We can honor Jai by creating space for the LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth in our lives, in our schools, in our homes and in our hearts."

Chavez said that is on her heart, too.

"I want our county to embrace our gay youth in our high school district, in our faith community, in our homes," Chavez told Eyewitness News. "We need to love the people that God has gifted to us, as they are, for who they are."

Chavez said tolerance is not enough.

"Acceptance is the key, and love," she said.

Carlisle said Bornstein's short life had touched a lot of people.

"I think you saw that today, how many people loved and accepted Jai," she said. "And, it's unfortunate when there's so much love in the world and sometimes people don't feel that."

Bornstein's mother said the teenager had worked to make the world a little less cruel and heartless, and she urged others to follow that example.

"Let love and inclusion be Jai's legacy." she said.

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