Today: a celebration of life and love.

“(Renee) loved diet coke and she loved take 5 (candy bars) so we have them here and we’re just celebrating,” says Chris Crandle, organizer and Renee’s best friend. 

Friends and family Renee Pagel gathered Friday for an upbeat celebration including stories and laughter on what would have been her 46th birthday. 

Five years ago today: a gruesome murder that remains unsolved. 

Pagel was found stabbed to death in her own bed on August 5th, 2006.  She was recovering from surgery after donating a kidney to a complete stranger. 

“She was incredibly generous, she was happy,” smiles Crandle.  “If she would be here, she’d be slapping her leg just laughing and telling a story.”

Renee’s divorce from husband, Michael, was finalized the week of her death.  Renee was granted custody of their three children, but that changed after her murder.   

 “There's only one (person of interest) in this case and he has the kids,” Crandle explains.  “(Renee) said just hours before she was killed, ‘I can’t let (Michael) kill me, I can`t let him have my kids.’”   

Although Crandle hasn't seen the children since the murder, the words of her friend serve as inspiration to keep Renee’s memory - and her case - alive.

“We absolutely are hoping for justice.” 

Now, detectives at Kent County Sheriff’s Department are handing their findings over to a cold case team, who will re-interview witnesses and look for new evidence.

Meanwhile, friends and family gathered at Dutton Cemetery in Gaines Township to begin creating an art piece called “Renee’s Garden” at her grave.

“We are sort of doing a garden theme,” says Crandle.  “We are cutting out (flower) petals and having everyone who’s lives she touched sign them.”  

She adds that the art project will keep on growing, just like a real garden, and they plan to submit the piece to Grand Rapid’s Art Prize next year.