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Three years after her death, Micalla Rettinger's family reflect on her life, legacy

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- Thursday marked three years since the unsolved death of 25-year-old University of Northern Iowa graduate Micalla "KK" Rettinger.

Her dad Steven still thinks about her constantly and said he misses her as much today as the day it happened.

"All you can do is go to work as a physician and take care of other people and hope it gets better," Steven said. "Some days, I can set it aside and compartmentalize it but not the anniversary and her birthday."

Rettinger's stepmother Kelly Lange dreads the entire month of April, and thoughts and memories of Micalla dominate her brain on the anniversary and the days leading up to it. 

"We can't bring her back, so I just try to think about all the good she put into the world while she was here," Kelly said. "That is still heartbreaking because she could still be continuing to put that good out."

Rettinger graduated from UNI in 2016 with a degree in biology. She was working at Mulligans and Kimball & Beecher Family Dental Office and had the goal of becoming a dentist. She was strong, driven and could accomplish anything she set her mind to.

She applied and got rejected twice from the dental school at the University of Iowa. Instead of giving up, she never gave up ever and was in the process of studying for it a third time when she died.

"It sounds really cliché, but she could walk into a room of ten strangers and walk out with ten friends an hour later. People just radiated towards KK," Kelly said. "I don't think there was anything that she did that she couldn't do extremely well, and she was just an incredible human being."

Micalla Rettinger was number 12 for the Panthers, otherwise known as "K.K." She played center field.

 "As good as she was in athletics, especially softball, playing centerfield for the Panthers for four years," Steven said. "She was just that good as a friend you made team captain team mothers just that good as a sister, certainly all I could have asked god for as a daughter."

Many questions remain surrounding the tragic 2019 incident.

The former Panther softball player was driving southbound between Waterloo and Cedar Falls early in the morning on April 28, 2019.

A bullet came through the driver's side window as her car crossed Brinker Lake and the Cedar River. Rettinger was able to pull off on the nearby Greenhill exit, where she later died. 

The bullet also injured her boyfriend, Adam Kimball. Another person was in the backseat of the car along with Rettinger and Kimball's dog, King, but both were uninjured.

"If you want to talk about grace under pressure, she had that man," Steven said. "If she didn't, she wouldn't be able to bring that Jeep to a stop on the shoulder that night without losing control after she'd already been shot."

Micalla was close to her two sisters, Ellayna, who is younger than her, and Maria, who is older.

Steven and Ellayna gathered with a group of friends from the Cedar Valley on Thursday at her gravesite in Kansas City. They sat around her gravesite and told stories about KK. 

It has become a tradition on the anniversary of her death and birthday. At times it has included her former boyfriend and UNI teammates. They focus on how she lived rather than how she died.

Lange said she often goes to Micalla's grave when she has a hard time or wants to clear her head or talk to someone. She has learned to take every year differently and, on the anniversary, allows herself to do whatever she needs to to get through the day.

"I feel like I am a better person to have known her and been loved by her and loved her myself," Kelly said. "At the same time, the world was robbed of an incredible human being that would have continued to put out so much good."

A bright light dimmed too soon. Kelly said Micalla was a beautiful person inside and out. She often thinks about how Micalla would handle situations she if faced with.

"The world would be a better place if more people were more like Mikayla. That's why ever since she's been gone, I have tried to live my life in a way that will make her proud of me," she said. "There are times that I fail. Obviously, we all do, but I tried to get back up on the horse and move on."

Following her death, the Rettinger family put together a scholarship fund in memory of "K.K." The scholarship goes to a current UNI softball player each year who demonstrates perseverance, leadership and positivity, just as Micalla did.

"She started every game and centerfield starting her first year. She and Coach Jacobs had an awesome, sort of perfect coach-player relationship," Steven said. "He expected a lot of her. She performed, and she did things for the team that meant he didn't have to worry about them. I haven't talked to him, but that is the sort of thing I can imagine that he would impart on who gets that scholarship each year."

Last school year was the first to award the scholarship. It was given to softball player Kamryn Shaffer, who received $1,000.

The amount is a percentage of the money raised through donations. If you are interested in donating to the Micalla Rettinger Scholarship you can do so here.

Waterloo Police have worked with authorities at the state and federal level, including the FBI, on the Rettinger case.

On Thursday, Waterloo Police Assistant Chief Joe Leibold said there is still an active investigation, and they continue to follow up on tips. No arrests have been made in the case.

"If you know something, please say something," Kelly said. "It's not going to bring your back, but then at least maybe some of the puzzle pieces will come together finally, as to why this happened. A bullet didn't fall from the sky, but that is what it seems like."

Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers and Waterloo Police are offering a reward for any information you may have on this case. That reward is now $58,000. If you'd like to make a pledge to the reward, or have information, you can call the Waterloo Police Department at (319) 291-4340, ext. 7, or Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at 855-300-TIPS (8477).