In some photos, Megan Criste is behind the camera: a man holding a baby, two people sitting on a porch, a street sign against the sky. Other photographs are of Megan Criste: as a baby with twin brother Tim, posing with friends and with her dog Minnie, and getting dipped on the dance floor by her father, Frank. Except for a picture of her crying on Santa's lap as a toddler, Criste is smiling in every one.
"[Megan Criste] always had a smile on her face," said Michael Uriell, who is married to Criste's oldest sister, Amy. "She was full of laughter and happiness." Criste will be remembered for many things — her laugh, her outgoing personality, her creative mind — and it is the photographs that bring these things to life.
Criste, a life-long Burke resident with an artistic eye, died Saturday, Sept. 18 in Arlington, four days after her 22nd birthday. She was found in a backyard swimming pool, and her death is still being investigated by Arlington County Police.
Criste's family and friends mourned her death and celebrated her life at the Fairfax Memorial Park Wednesday, Sept. 21, where hundreds of photographs of and by Criste were on display.
"Megan loved taking pictures of her baby niece [Lexie]," said Michael Uriell.
"She loved black and white stills," said Amy Uriell, who lives in Richmond with Michael. "She was very creative and talented."
Criste, who went to White Oaks Elementary School and Lake Braddock High School, had taken some photography classes, said Amy Uriell, but had natural artistic talent for photography and drawing.
Criste and her twin brother had four older siblings. She was also a writer and especially liked poetry, said Amy Uriell and Tim Criste.
"[Megan Criste] didn't have to look in any books," said Tim Criste. "Whatever came into her head, she wrote it down."
Megan Criste lived with her parents in Burke and worked as a waitress at Heart in Hand restaurant in Clifton, said Michael Uriell. For several years before that, she worked at Glory Days Grill in Fairfax.
She learned a great deal from her work in restaurants. "Megan loved to cook," said Tim Criste. "She can take anything bland and make it into an excellent meal."
Eventually, Megan Criste wanted to have a career in photography or computer graphics, he said.
Megan Criste made scrapbooks with many of her photos, said Amy Uriell, flipping the pages of one her sister had made for her mother Kathy's birthday. Pictures in one of the scrapbooks showed Criste, a nature lover, on fishing and camping trips.
"She really liked to fish," said Amy Uriell. "We still have her fishing rod in the house."
BEFORE HER death, Criste had been growing out her brown hair to donate to the American Cancer Society's Locks of Love program. Her family decided after she died to cut her ponytail and donate it for her, said Amy Uriell.
For Criste, said her oldest sister, family was one of the most important things in her life.
"She was the most happy when she was around friends and family, around people," said Michael Uriell.
"Megan was kind and gentle, had a zest for life, and she just loved to laugh," said Emily Criste, delivering the eulogy at her sister's funeral. "And that laugh, infectious. And more times than not, it was way too loud. And if you were lucky and you really got her going, you just might get that accidental yet embarrassingly cute snort."
Over 300 friends and family members attended Criste's funeral, on Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Church of the Nativity in Burke.
"[God] asks us to believe that death is not the last word," said Father Peter Fagan, giving the homily at the funeral. But this is a hard thing to believe, he said, especially in the time of a death.
Emily Criste, who lives in Florida, described in her speech how young Megan, coming out of the movie theaters after having seen "Apollo 13," scoffed and said, "That never could have happened." When her family learned of Megan Criste's death, she said, they all said the same thing: "That never could have happened."
She said that she kept hoping her sister would show up at the door again.
"I still feel like we're going through the motions on the off-chance that this is true," said Emily Criste.
"We miss her," said Amy Uriell. "She had a happy life ... she was at a point in her life where she was comfortable with herself."