WEST SPRINGFIELD — Relatives and friends of Angelica Guerrero, who died last week while shielding her teenaged daughter from the impact of a punishing tornado, remembered the 39-year-old mother of two as a hero during her funeral service tonight.
“She gave her life to save her daughter,’’ said Eddie Owens, 46, a family friend from Wilbraham, after the service at the Toomey-O’Brien Funeral Home in West Springfield. “She made the greatest sacrifice. She’s an angel, that’s for sure.’’
As a tornado bore down on their home on Wednesday of last week, Guerrero grabbed her daughter Ibone, 15, and rushed her into the bathroom. Guerrero climbed on top of Ibone in the tub to protect her from the high winds and debris that rained down on them.
Though her daughter and husband, Juan, survived the ordeal, Guerrero was killed when the home collapsed around her, reducing the three-family residence to a pile of rubble within seconds. Her older daughter, Fabiola, 18, was not there at the time.
tonight Owens, who has a business next to the house that trapped Guerrero and several other people, recalled a chaotic scene in the wake of tornado. He said that when the twister passed, he entered what was left of the home along with his son and a co-worker and helped one family exit safely.
Then, Owens said, he could see Juan standing on top of a pile of debris. “I heard Juan yell ‘Eddie, Eddie, I can’t find my wife and daughter,’’ he said.
Owens also described Guerrero as a devoted mother who along with her husband worked hard to provide for their daughters.
“You could tell they’re a tight-knit family,’’ he said. “It’s just devastating.’’
Police did not allow reporters to attend tonight’s service, citing the family’s request for privacy, and many mourners said they were too distressed to speak to the media.
Funeral director Ryan Kelleher said afterward that the service was “emotional’’ and that Angelica Guerrero’s brother, Jose Luis Figueroa, gave a brief eulogy.
“He talked about family and her love for family,’’ Kelleher said. “Mostly about her daughters. Being a mother was very important to her.’’
He said that the Rev. Michael Twohig, a Catholic chaplain at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, also praised Guerrero during the service for her selfless act and compared her to an angel who would stop at nothing to save her daughter.
Guerrero was one of three people killed when tornadoes ripped through Central and Western Massachusetts last week.
tonight outside the funeral home, a family friend who would only give his name as Jose said Guerrero will always be remembered for her final act of valor.
“She’s a hero,’’ he said. “She was the best ever.’’