Livingston, NJ – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer Jacqueline “Jackie” Montanaro died on Jan. 14 after running back into her burning home in an attempt to save her six-year-old daughter.
William Montanaro said it was nearly midnight on Jan. 13 when he awoke to the sound of blaring fire alarms inside the Hazlet home he shared with his wife, Officer Montanaro, and their daughters, six-year-old Madelyn and eight-year-old Elena, NJ.com reported.
William Montanaro’s brother, NPR reporter Domenico Montanaro, said his brother told him he ran down to the main floor of the home and saw one of the side walls engulfed in flames, according to the news outlet.
“Smoke was already billowing through the house, and he ran back upstairs to get the family out,” Domenico said. “And within seconds, the entire second floor was covered in black smoke. They basically had 10 seconds to try to get out of the house before they were covered. And they did what they could.”
The couple forced their way through the blinding smoke with Elena, but Madalyn was still stuck inside, NJ.com reported.
“When I rushed back into the house for Madelyn, I became enveloped in a massive amount of thick, hot black smoke,” William Montanaro said in a statement issued by his brother.
“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,” the grieving widower said.
Officer Montanaro and Madelyn were unable to escape the home.
“There was CPR done on both of them,” Domenico Montanaro told NJ.com. “They were both in critical condition.”
Officer Montanaro, 40, was transported to Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel before being transferred to Cooperman Barnabas in Livingston, according to the news outlet.
She succumbed to her injuries at 1:40 a.m. on Jan. 14.
Madelyn was rushed to Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, where she passed away early Saturday afternoon, NJ.com reported.
“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. “Jackie was a hero.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, NJ.com reported.
“Although we do not believe the fire is suspicious in nature, the fire is under active investigation,” a spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said.
The family’s Goldendoodle, Duchess, was also killed in the blaze, according to NJ.com.
Officer Montanaro was employed as a supervisory CBP officer assigned to Newark Liberty International Airport at the time of her death.
She devoted 16 years of her life to her law enforcement career, according to her obituary.
Officer Montanaro graduated from the University of Delaware in 2004 with a degree in political sciences and a concentration in international studies.
In addition to her work at Newark Liberty International Airport, she was also previously assigned to John F. Kennedy Airport.
“When you think of the perfect person, she was it,” Sandy Hagberg, a teacher at Madelyn’s preschool, said of Officer Montanaro during an interview with CBS News. “She was always just kind and kind to everyone, and she was instilling that in her daughters, to spread love and kindness.”
Hagberg said the fallen officer handled the terrifying situation exactly as she would expect, CBS News reported.
“The kind of mother that she was to those girls, it does not surprise me at all,” she said of Officer Montanaro running back into the burning building.
The fire demolished the family’s home, the Asbury Park Press reported.
A firefighter also suffered unspecified injuries during the incident, according to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).
A fundraising page established to help William and Elena Montanaro has raised more than $320,000 so far.
In addition to her husband and daughter, Officer Montanaro also leaves behind her parents, sister, brothers, grandmother, uncle’s aunts, in-laws, and cousins, according to her obituary.
She and Madelyn will be laid to rest on Friday.
“As the Hazlet community tries to wrap ours heads around such a tragic event, please keep the Montanaro family in your thoughts and help support them if you can,” the Hazlet Township Police Department said in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon.
Please pray for the Montanaro family, and if you can, contribute. https://t.co/LSZa8LOhmC
— Scott Detrow (@scottdetrow) January 15, 2023
It is with sadness that we learned of the tragic death of US Customs & Border Protection Officer (NJ) Jacqueline Montanaro who passed away after heroically attempting to save her daughter, Madelyn, when their home in Hazlet, NJ caught fire. Rest in Peace Jacqueline & Madelyn. pic.twitter.com/3G4ANszij0
— William Schievella (@BillSchievella) January 15, 2023
last night our power went off around 1am and than we heard MULTIPLE fire trucks and police cars around the corner. we thought maybe a transformer blew or a car hit a pole… nope, a family lost their house and their dog is missing. 😢
praying hard for this family 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/abooNmc5Vc
— Melissa (@melissax1125) January 13, 2023
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Jacqueline “Jackie” Montanaro, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.