NEW YORK -- Hundreds of mourners packed a church Wednesday for the funeral of a 21-year-old university student accidentally shot by police responding to a break-in at her home, which her uncle says could have been avoided if the officer had tried to negotiate an end to the standoff.
Several of Andrea Rebello's sorority sisters from Hofstra University on Long Island spoke about their friend at the service as they and her twin sister, Jessica, fought back tears. The Journal News of Westchester County, north of New York City, said St. Teresa of Avila Church in Sleepy Hollow was filled nearly to capacity for the service, which came five days after an ex-con named Dalton Smith burst into the home the Rebello twins rented near the university.
Two other students were in the house that night. One of them called 911 when she was allowed to leave the home to get cash from a bank machine for Smith. The others, including Jessica Rebello, fled as police arrived on the scene. But Andrea was caught in a headlock by Smith, who pointed his gun at a police officer.
The officer opened fire, hitting Smith with seven bullets and killing him. The eighth bullet hit Rebello in the head.
A black hearse carried Andrea's casket through Sleepy Hollow to the church. Weeping mourners clad in black, including Jessica Rebello and the sisters' parents, were surrounded by friends and relatives as the casket was brought inside.
During the private funeral service, four candles were lit in Rebello's memory: one by an aunt and uncle, one by her godparents, one by her friends and one by her twin, Newsday reported.
"In the flower of her youth, she left us," the Rev. Osvaldo Franklin told the mourners as he invited Rebello's sorority sisters to speak about their friend. Several did, choking back sobs as they described her as a fearless friend with a contagious smile.
"We knew you would have accomplished so much," said one, the Journal News reported.
"Andrea was a good person. Andrea was a good daughter," Franklin said later outside the church as he spoke of the public relations major who this year had started a blog focusing on her favorite homemade holiday desserts.
"She was always happy, very friendly," a family friend, Carla Correia, told reporters.
Many of the mourners wore white ribbons in Rebello's memory. "Nobody is going to forget her smile," said one, Carla Rudenko.
Henrique Santos, the twins' godfather and uncle, said this week that police were too quick to enter the house. The officer "should have negotiated," Santos told reporters outside the Rebello family's home in nearby Tarrytown. "If he tried to negotiate, nothing would happen, I'm sure.
"In a case like that, you have to be professional. I don't know why he did not negotiate, ask for help," Santos added.
The Nassau County Police Benevolent Assn. said the policeman, an experienced veteran, did nothing wrong and was forced to react after Smith pointed his weapon at the officer.
"There's only one person responsible for what happened ... and that's the ex-con," James Carver, president of the association, said at a news conference Tuesday.
"It was a very, very fluid call; it started out as a robbery in progress … it was a hectic situation ... very, very quick," Nassau County Det. Vincent Garcia told The Times on Monday.