Enrolling as a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Beth entered her first photography class with trepidation, guessing that everyone there already knew each other. Then she met fellow student Teresa Halbach.
“She made me feel like I fit in,” Beth, who asked that her last name not be used, tells PEOPLE. “Honestly, it was her smile. She made you feel like you belonged just by her nature. She had a very adventurous spirit, and she made you want to come along with her.”
Teresa’s friends tell PEOPLE they can’t forget the bright light that was extinguished when Teresa, then 25, was murdered in 2005. Now, as Teresa returns to the headlines thanks to the Netflix series Making a Murderer, her friends are rallying around her memory to ensure her life isn’t overlooked by the growing controversy around her convicted killer, Steven Avery, who claims he was framed for the crime.
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“She went out of her way to make you feel special,” says Tina Mills, 35, another former college classmate. “People were inspired by her and people wanted to be like her. She just had a way of listening that made you feel comforted and at ease. She made people love her, and obviously she had a lot of love to give away, too.”
She adds: “Caring, loving, any good quality you could come up with, that was Teresa.”
Andy Behrendt, 35, now a Lutheran pastor, was editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper in 2001-2002 when Teresa was a staff photographer. “She just radiated happiness and life,” he says. “Even after she died so tragically – and here we are again, faced with this awful, awful tragedy 10 years later – I still can’t picture her without a smile on her face. In the end, nothing can take that away.”
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Teresa was a bridesmaid in her friend Katie Uttech’s 2004 wedding. The two also had met in college. Uttech remembers nights out with Teresa singing karaoke, cooking together, a fun driving trip from Green Bay to Kansas City accompanied by Beatles music, and sitting in front of the TV together to watch Friends.
“She was always very positive,” says Uttech. “I don’t ever remember her being mad about anything. She just had this positivity about herself. She didn’t have a bad bone in her body. She just enjoyed life, she enjoyed new experiences.”
And as Teresa turned her passion for photography into a profession, “she could just make people relax and smile, and she took great pictures,” says Uttech, who still has brochures and magnets for the Photography by Teresa business that her friend started. “She was great at making memories.”
It was while working as a freelance photographer for an Auto Trader magazine that investigators say Teresa went on assignment to Avery’s residence, and was never seen again.
“I try not to think of the story of what happened to her,” says Uttech, who has made a choice not to watch the Netflix series. “This Netflix thing is not something that’s made up,” she says. “This is somebody’s sister and somebody’s daughter and somebody’s friend and somebody’s cousin. This is real.
“It’s really easy for somebody to watch this show and come up with opinions, and everybody’s entitled to their opinions,” she says. “I can’t do anything but say who Teresa was, and she was a really great person.”
She adds: “I just miss her not being around and not being able to make more memories together.”