SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Hundreds gathered Wednesday for a heartbreaking farewell to Andrea Rebello, the Hofstra University student who was shot and killed during a home invasion robbery last week.
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, the village of Sleepy Hollow in Westchester County seemed to stand still, but for the slow approach of the funeral procession for Rebello. Residents were united in grief over an unthinkable loss, as hundreds poured into St. Teresa of Avila Church.
The 21-year-old with an ever-present smile was baptized at the church, attended religious school, and now was eulogized.
“It’s very, very sad; very heartbreaking,” said Sister Mary Clare, a religious school teacher.
Rebello’s twin sister, Jessica, was helped into the church in her father’s arms, emerging an hour later without words, but with tears. She was also inside the off-campus Hofstra University home when an armed robber barged in…but escaped moments before gunfire erupted.
Inside the church, Rebello’s family followed the pastor as he led her white cloth-draped coffin to the altar.
The Rev. Osvaldo Franklin, the main celebrant of the funeral Mass, said everyone in the church was wondering why Andrea was killed “in the flower of her youth.”
“Only the word of God — can help us in this time of pain,” Franklin said. “Andrea is an angel in heaven, praying for us.”
The funeral included a ceremony known as the four candles. Rebello’s godparents lit a candle symbolizing grief, an aunt and uncle lit one symbolizing courage, the friends lit one symbolizing memory and her twin sister, Jessica, who was in the Long Island house where Rebello was killed, lit one for love.
Half a dozen of Rebello’s sorority sisters from Hofstra spoke about her, some of them choking back tears. They described her as fearless and strong and remembered her as a fan of bike riding, tree climbing and going out to eat on Friday nights.
Rebello was eulogized in English, Spanish and Portuguese. She had expressed pride in her Portuguese heritage.
Hofstra students wearing white ribbons in her memory filled the pews, saying their sadness was overwhelming. Others who have known the twins for years said it is hard to imagine one without the other.
“She was a wonderful person, a wonderful sister,” friend Carla Correia said. “She was very close to the Portuguese community, an example for all the kids.”
“She was just a kind person and I feel sorry for her sister and her family,” friend Nicole Azevedo said.
“It’s terrible, nobody should have to go that way,” friend Brianna Henriques said.
“She was a wonderful person and wonderful sister,” a friend of Andrea’s for 16 years told WCBS 880 reporter Sophia Hall. “She was close to the Portuguese community. She was an example for all of the kids. I don’t know. There’s no words to describe and it’s so sad.”
Rebello was accidentally killed by a police officer’s bullet during a response to a home invasion early Friday morning in Uniondale.
Investigators said Rebello was being held in a headlock by Dalton Smith when he pointed his weapon at the officer, prompting the officer to open fire. Rebello was killed by one of eight shots fired by the officer. Smith also was killed.
At a wake for Rebello in Tarrytown, some of her friends wondered if the shooting could have been prevented. They said police should have waited for backup.
“I think this was unnecessary,” family friend, Maria Sousa, said.
“It’s terrible,” said friend Brianna Henriques. “Nobody should have to go that way.”
On Tuesday, Nassau County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President James Carver said while he understands questions about the shooting, he believes the officer did the right thing.
“To those who second guess, walk a day in our shoes and see how easy your decision would have been that day,” he said. “Our job is to get inside and make sure we can protect as many people as we can.”
Patty Neuwirth of Briarcliff Manor, who knows Rebello’s father, said she sympathized with everyone involved, including the police officer.
“None of us can put ourselves in the position of any of them,” Neuwirth said.
A key question is whether the officers responding to the house near the Hofstra campus were aware the intruder was holding hostages. Police officials described the initial report as simply a robbery in progress.
“He went into the house, he deemed it was not appropriate to wait at that time. If he would have waited, we don’t know what could have happened,” Carver said, adding that the only person responsible for Rebello’s death was “the ex-con who was on parole.”
Smith had a warrant out for his arrest for violating his parole. The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said he served nine years of a 10-year sentence for attempted robbery and criminal possession of a weapon and was released in May 2012.
He was arrested for a parole violation in July and was told he wouldn’t have to go back to prison if he successfully completed a 90-day drug treatment program. He finished the program in February and was released. A warrant was issued in April after he didn’t make contact with his parole officer and left his approved residence.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who has two children that attend Hofstra University, has called for a full investigation into the shooting.
Rebello was laid to rest at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
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