CHARLESTON, W.Va. (KDKA/AP) – For all his on-camera carousing and cussing, “BUCKWILD” reality TV star Shain Gandee was a publicly proclaimed and baptized Christian, and his mother told hundreds of mourners Sunday that she will see him again.
“I know where Shain is,” Loretta Gandee told the family, friends and fans crammed into the Charleston Municipal Auditorium. “He said about a month ago, ‘I know when I die I’m going to heaven.'”
Dressed in a hot-pink “Gandee Candy” T-shirt and jeans, she spoke only a few words but bellowed out an unaccompanied hymn, her voice echoing through the auditorium in prayer for their reunion.
Family pastors say Shain declared his faith a few years ago and was baptized. They urged hundreds of young people packing the Charleston Municipal Auditorium to do the same.
Shain, uncle David Gandee and a third man were found dead April 1 inside a sport-utility vehicle that was partially submerged in a mud pit near Shain’s home in Sissonville.
Autopsies determined all three died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Police say the muffler was below the surface and that mud covered the passenger side.
Authorities said Gandee and the other two men were in a remote area, forcing investigators to use ATVs in order to access the site.
They were last seen at a bar early last Sunday morning. The three men had told people they were going off-roading.
After hearing of Gandee’s death last Monday afternoon, fellow Buckwild cast member Michael “Bluefoot” Burford tweeted this:
Rest high on that mountain Shain I love you brother and miss you terribly already all I can think about is growin up thaxton holler together
— Buckwild’s Bluefoot (@MTVBluefoot) April 1, 2013
Shain Gandee, nicknamed “Gandee Candy” by fans, was a breakout star of the show that followed the antics of young friends enjoying their wild country lifestyle. Season one was filmed last year, mostly around Sissonville and Charleston.
The Rev. Randy Campbell told the many young people in the crowd he understands that life bombards them with difficult choices. But he urged them to follow Shain Gandee’s lead and embrace their faith now, while they are energetic and engaged.
“This life will hand you a lot of things and call it pleasure, but there is nothing that brings greater joy to a person’s heart than serving the Lord,” Campbell said. “You may think at this point, you’re having fun, but those days will pass.”
When they do, he said, God is all that matters.
Cameras were not allowed at the funeral or private family burial in Thaxton Cemetery.
As hundreds filed past the two closed coffins on the auditorium stage, a slideshow of family photos showed the simple life that Shain Gandee lived long before TV cameras started following him.
Set to country music were snapshots of him as a uniformed pee wee football player, as a teenager in a tuxedo for prom, then graduating from high school in a black gown and mortarboard.
In other images, he kissed a bride and held babies. In several, he wore hunting camouflage, displaying a slain buck by its antlers and lining up a batch of gray squirrels on a bench.
Gandee favored four-wheelers, pickups and SUVs over cellphones and computers, and “mudding,” or off-road driving, was one of his favorite pastimes.
It was no coincidence some mourners arrived in mud-splattered trucks.
Dreama and Charlie Frampton, who live a few doors down, said Gandee had been playing in the mud since he was 5.
“If it wasn’t a four-wheel drive truck,” Dreama said, “it was a four-wheeler or a dirt bike.”
“He was dedicated to the sport,” Charlie added. “That’s all you can do out in the country.”
Gandee’s family asked mourners to wear camouflage or the neon-colored Gandee Candy T-shirts to the service because Shain didn’t like to dress up.
Ricky Sater, 23, said his friend would have loved the sea of camo and T-shirts that filled the auditorium.
“He probably would walk in there going, ‘BUCKWILD!'” he said.
Sater has known Shain since middle school and last saw him a week ago, when he came over to borrow a pin for a trailer hitch.
“He said, ‘See ya, Rick!’ and I said, ‘See ya, drunk!” recalled Sater, who got the terrible news days later in a phone call.
“My sister told me about it, and it being April Fool’s, I thought she was joking. But she wasn’t,” he said, swallowing hard. “I try to keep my emotions balled up, but I started breaking down about six hours later.”
Shooting was underway on season two at the time of Gandee’s death, but MTV spokesman Jake Urbanski said film crews were not with him over Easter weekend and hadn’t filmed him since earlier that week.
MTV says it will be weeks before producers and cast members decide whether to continue. For now, the network said, everyone is focused on supporting Gandee’s family.
Katrina Burdette, 25, of Cross Lanes, didn’t know Gandee but is friends with his cast mate, Ashley Whitt. Burdette has watched every episode and wants to see more.
“I think it should go on. Give them time to mourn and everything, but he’d want the show to go on,” she said. “He wanted to be in the show and keep it going, so why not – in his memory – keep it going?”
MTV said the half-hour series in the old “Jersey Shore” time slot was pulling in an average of 3 million viewers per episode since its premiere and was the No. 1 original cable series on Thursday nights among 12- to 34-year-olds.
Others, like his neighbors the Framptons, say the show just won’t be the same.
“They should just leave well enough alone,” Charlie Frampton said.
But he won’t object if the show survives. It’s bringing people to West Virginia, and he rejects the notion that it portrays the state in a negative light.
“They’re just showing what true country is,” he said. “It’s no worse than that ‘Teen Mom.'”
(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)