TEWKSBURY (CBS) — “My first thought waking up this morning was, I’m never going to see my baby girl again,” Priscilla Champagne said, two days after she lost her daughter in the most deadly mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Rhonda LeRocque, 42, was among the dozens of people killed at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival Sunday night when a gunman opened fire on the crowd of 22,000 from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel across the street.
Her mother described the moment she learned her daughter had been taken from her, when Rhonda’s father-in-law called her early Monday morning.
“I answered and I said, ‘What’s the matter, what happened?'” she said. “And his words were, ‘Rhonda got shot last night.’ And I said, ‘No, no, you’re kidding.’ And he said, ‘Rhonda didn’t make it.’ And I was devastated, I was shocked. No mother deserves to get a phone call like that about their baby.”
LeRocque was at the concert with her husband Jason, young daughter, and father-in-law on a family trip to celebrate her wedding anniversary. Her father-in-law had bought the family tickets to the festival.
“It was getting late and there was still another set to go on the stage, so the father-in-law took her daughter, and went back to the hotel room,” Champagne said. “And during that next set it all happened. And I’m just grateful that Jason didn’t get killed and that her daughter was safe, and that she didn’t have to see that happen to her mom.”
“Jason was right next to her when she fell,” she added. “He thought she was ducking, but she didn’t get up.”
The couple had been married more than 20 years, and planned to take their daughter to Disneyland as the next stop on their trip.
“They were the perfect, ideal couple,” Champagne said. “They enjoyed everything together. They were quite the pair. They were so in love. Between their faith and their love they just grew closer and closer.”
Champagne and Rhonda’s aunt, Gloria Murdock, gathered reporters in Champagne’s living room Tuesday afternoon to talk about Rhonda’s life–remembering her as a joyful woman of strong faith who “would exhaust herself to be there for everybody.”
“She was a beautiful person,” Champagne said. “She set the bar real high, she was perfect in every sense of the word. She was a perfect mother, a perfect daughter, a perfect granddaughter, a perfect wife … You just had to know and love her like we do. She was one in a billion.”
Champagne said Rhonda was a God-loving woman who loved her family, and her faith, and old country music. She was a joy to raise as a child, her mother said.
“She was all things to all people,” Murdock said. “She emanated love throughout her. There wasn’t a nasty bone in her body, and she always went above and beyond to be there for everybody, even to her own detriment sometimes.”
LeRocque worked at IDEO, a global design firm in Cambridge, and enjoyed skiing and cooking and baking, Champagne and Murdock said.
“She loved cooking and she always wanted to open her own catering business,” her mother said. “She would have been really good at it.”
“She could whip up a cake like that. ‘Ten minutes, auntie, just ten minutes, that’s all it takes.’ And I did the dishes, but she was pretty on,” said Murdock.
Murdock, who owns a salon in Florida, flew to Massachusetts to be with her sister. She created a GoFundMe page to help with the funeral expenses and Rhonda’s transfer home–as well as to help her husband, Jason.
“He’s distraught,” Champagne said. “He’s wifeless, he doesn’t know how he’s going to do it with his daughter. He could never replace Rhonda.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the page had raised over $20,000 of its $25,000 goal.
Champagne said she can’t believe the outpouring of support. She said she woke up with 182 text messages, and that didn’t count the voice messages and phone calls.
“The phone never stopped all day,” she said. “Everybody she knew loved Rhonda. I don’t think you could find one person who had anything bad to say about Rhonda.”
She said she’s left with questions about security and safety in our modern world.
“Should I have to worry about where my family goes in this country? Do we have to stay home now, not participate in anything we enjoy?” she asked.
But she said he’s been coping one day at a time, and said she knows her daughter is in God’s hands.
“The Bible promises a resurrection, and my faith tells me that she’ll be there, because she’s worthy of it,” she said.
LeRocque’s Tewksbury community was also mourning her loss Tuesday.
“When it’s in your own neighborhood, it’s still the same thing, like you’re watching a movie and you can’t believe it,” said Tewksbury resident Sue Greenan.
Town officials were now rallying together in the face of a tragedy that has hit home.
“We’re a small-knit community, this is a small town, and we’re family here,” said Mark Kratman of the town board of selectmen. “Whenever these senseless tragedies happen, we’re going to rally around them as we always do.”
Police said the gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada had 23 guns in his hotel room when they found him dead from an apparent suicide. There is no word yet on his motive.