Community grieves after 'hero' mom dies trying to save daughter from house fire

Jacqueline Montanaro (R) and her daughter Madelyn Rose (L)
Jacqueline Montanaro (R) and her daughter Madelyn Rose (L) | Montanaro family

A New Jersey community is mourning the death of a border patrol officer who died trying to save her daughter from a house fire. 

A group of mourners gathered at Veterans Park in Hazlet Tuesday to attend a candlelight vigil for Jacqueline Montanaro, who died after her family's home caught fire on Friday morning. 

After escaping the home, Montanaro raced back into the house, hoping to rescue her 6-year-old daughter, Madelyn, from the burning house. Both mother and child later died from injuries they sustained from the fire.

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Montanaro's husband, William Montanaro, and the couple's 8-year-old daughter survived the fire. 

Viewings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at the Holmdel Funeral Home, with the funeral and mass of Christian burial planned for Friday at St. Benedict's Church in Holmdel. 

According to an obituary posted online by the funeral home, Montanaro graduated from the University of Delaware in 2004 and joined the U.S. Customs Border Protection at John F. Kennedy Airport in 2007. She later worked at Newark Liberty International Airport and rose to the rank of supervisory officer. 

Montanaro also enjoyed ballroom dancing as she loved to dance Salsa and Merengue. 

"I am heartbroken. I have lost the love of my life — my beautiful wife, Jackie — and my sweet, loving, spunky little girl, Madelyn," William Montanaro wrote in a note posted to the funeral page. 

"Jackie was a hero. When I rushed back into the house for Madelyn, I became enveloped in a massive amount of thick, hot black smoke. Without hesitation, Jackie then charged in with a mother's love and the courage of a police officer fueling her attempt to save our daughter. I am now focused on getting my daughter the support and help she's going to need so that we can rebuild our lives together." 

A GoFundMe campaign to support the family has raised over $300,000.

William Montanaro said he will forever cherish the memories of his wife and youngest daughter, who he called "mini," CBS New York reports.

Giovanna Candela, a fellow Hazel resident who attended Tuesday's prayer vigil, stated, "My heart breaks for this poor family."

The deceased woman's father, Joe Autera, preached to the crowd gathered for the vigil about the need to share love and kindness, just like his daughter and granddaughter had done. 

"Make the difference that they no longer can," he said, according to CBS New York. 

The former border patrol agent's husband said that his wife did not think twice about going back inside once she realized the couple's 6-year-old daughter had not escaped the house. The fire alarm had gone off, and just as William Montanaro went to check if the circuit breaker had caught fire, smoke filled the home, forcing him to crawl.

He cleared a path for the family to exit, realizing later that his youngest daughter was missing. 

"I turned around and tried to go back in, and the flames and the smoke was just so intense," the widower said. 

"My wife gave her life to save our daughter because when I went in, and I was engulfed in flames and black smoke and said we have to wait for our first responders, my wife's first responder heart overtook everything and went back in."

The family expressed gratitude to the first responders and their community, who have helped them cope with the recent tragedy. According to Montanaro, his 8-year-old daughter has continued to be strong during this time, and his purpose in life now is to live for her. 

As The Christian Post reported, another community in Brazil mourned the loss of a pastor and his wife this month after the couple died attempting to save their son from drowning.

Felisberto Sampaio and his wife, Inalda Sampaio, visited Camacari Beach with their 13-year-old son on Jan. 10. 

The couple entered the water after they saw their son struggling to stay afloat, but they failed to reach him. The boy was later rescued by a fisherman and another family member. However, his parents were not rescued from the water in time. 

The local fire department confirmed to Brazilian news outlet Universo Online that they attempted to revive the couple before eventually declaring them dead at the scene. 

Felisberto Sampaio had been a pastor for 12 years at the Assembly of God Church in Quixaba, Paraíba, according to The Daily Mail. Members of the congregation, including a pastor at a church the family, frequently attended, Leonardo Meneses, grieved the loss. 

"I know that the circumstances are painful and difficult for us to understand. Only eternity will explain all the mysteries of life," Meneses said.

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follower her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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