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Tara Fowler
February 26, 2015 12:20 PM

After hearing about the death of a young Sherlock fan, Benedict Cumberbatch wrote a touching letter to the family of 14-year-old Eve Shepherd, apologizing for missing her funeral because he was “filming the show she loved.”

“It was absolutely unbelievable,” her father Mark Shepherd, 47, tells PEOPLE of receiving the letter. “We know that Eve would have been jumping for joy.

“For him to have spent time to write to us and to comfort us in such a very difficult time is incredible,” he says. “We knew that he was a lovely man before, but to spend time when he was getting married and was so busy with the Oscars and the BAFTAs and everything else is amazing.”

Born premature, Eve underwent more than 200 operations after needing a tracheostomy at just 3 months old, her family told the Warrington Guardian. Cumberbatch had previously sent the 14-year-old a signed picture, “wishing her well and saying that he want to meet her,” her father says.

The letter was read in front of hundreds at Eve’s funeral service Monday at Padgate Methodist Church in Warrington, U.K.

“I send my deepest sympathies to Eve’s family,” the 38-year-old actor writes. “To lose someone so young who fought for her health all her life must be beyond endurance.

“I hope they can take solace from the fact that she was clearly much loved and her support of our show is hugely appreciated and shall be remembered.

Eve Shepherd
Courtesy Shepherd Family

“I wish I could be there but sadly am filming the show she loved. God rest her soul. With all my love and sympathies, Benedict xxx.”

The 14-year-old, who died of breathing difficulties, was such a huge fan of the series that the show’s theme played as the procession left the church.

“Eve was a really bubbly girl – the life and soul of the family,” Shepherd says. “I have to be honest and say that our lives are empty because we are so missing her.”

He adds: “She always had a smile on her face and never let anything get her down. Despite all her difficulties she was forecast to get all A’s and B’s at every subject at school. For what she went through in her life, that’s unbelievable.”

The family is selling wristbands in support of Eve. The best way to contact them is through Twitter at @Mjeshep.

Reporting by PHILIP BOUCHER

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