HUNDREDS of mourners gathered in Southampton today for the funeral of murdered teenager Hannah Foster.

They came to Highfield Church, Portswood, for a service of thanksgiving for the 17-year-old, who was found raped and strangled just under a month ago.

Her parents said public support would help them get through. In a statement, Hilary and Trevor Foster, who have set up a memorial fund for Hannah, said public support would help them get through.

They said: "Nothing can bring our beautiful daughter back to us, and today will not be easy for any of us, but we will find strength in each other in the continued support given to us by members of the community in Southampton and beyond."

They added: "We thank the media for their on-going assistance in publicising the police inquiry, and ask that you please respect our privacy inside the church and at the private cremation service later today.

"Please bear in mind that this is one of the most difficult days of our lives."

The couple attended the funeral service with their younger daughter, Sarah, 14.

Places had been reserved in the church for 240 invited guests, including dozens of Hannah's family members, friends and police officers working on the murder inquiry.

A video-link system screened the service into the adjacent church centre for mourners unable to find seats.

The service was conducted by Highfield vicar Rev Graham Archer who said: "Publicity surrounding her death has elevated her to almost celebrity status but those of you who knew her as a friend or a family member should not let anyone rob you of your memories of how you remember her. Your memories cannot be taken away. They are part of her legacy to you.

"Today the memories will have a painful edge but they didn't when they happened so don't be afraid to talk about her and those precious memories.

"A killer has already taken one life. In your handling of your responses, make sure he takes no more."

Organisers installed loudspeakers to relay the service to reporters and well-wishers gathered outside.

The service included tributes by two of Hannah's former teachers and poems written by two of her closest friends.

Meanwhile, pupils at Cantell School in Bassett were releasing 200 white balloons at 11am for Hannah.

The teenager, who planned to become a doctor, had attended Cantell School before studying A-levels at Barton Peveril College in Eastleigh.

Hannah had been with friends at pubs in Bevois Valley before she was abducted on the short walk home on Friday, March 14.

Her body was found two days later, dumped in Allington Lane, West End. Hampshire police today confirmed an arrest warrant and associated documentation has now been sent to authorities in India, where their prime suspect is known to have fled on March 18.

A team of six detectives is on standby to fly to the Punjab once he has been detained.