TEWKSBURY — Rhonda LeRocque, a “beautiful, loving mother and wife,” died in the Las Vegas mass shooting despite frantic efforts by complete strangers who carried her from the shooting scene to a pickup truck that drove her to a hospital, her family said Thursday.
LeRocque and her husband, Jason, were among the thousands attending an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, when Stephen C. Paddock opened fire, killing her and 57 others, in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
On Thursday, a relative of Jason LeRocque’s publicly read a letter the grieving husband composed that described the loss of his wife, but also the life she led as a devout Jehovah’s Witness and as a devoted mother to their daughter, Ali.
“Rhonda and I had dropped Ali off to my father, returned to the festival, and shortly after that the gunshots began,” LeRocque’s letter said. “Rhonda was among those who were hit very early on.”
He said strangers helped carry her from the concert area to a pickup truck whose driver then sped off to the University Medical Center. “Thanks to the heroic efforts of a few individuals, we could get her to the trauma center at University Medical Center while still breathing,’’ LeRocque wrote. “However, after a couple of hours, her life tragically ended. I was with her the entire time.”
His letter was read aloud by Ken Ball, a cousin of Jason’s by marriage.
In the letter, LeRocque described his wife as “the happiest, most caring, sweet, and self-sacrificing person you would ever know.” He said she was motivated by her love for others.
“Words cannot properly describe the loss we feel and the emptiness Rhonda’s death leaves in all of us,” LeRocque wrote in the letter. “We are heartened, however, by the vast outpouring of love, support, tenderness, and giving we have seen literally since the moment those horrific shots started.”
According to relatives, Rhonda and Jason LeRocque met more than 21 years ago through their local Kingdom Hall, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ house of worship. As part of the church’s charitable activities, Rhonda and Jason LeRocque helped rebuild homes in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and in other places affected by natural disasters, the family said. Rhonda LeRocque had worked at IDEO, a design company in Cambridge, for a decade, according to her LinkedIn page.
A memorial service will be held for LeRocque at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Tewksbury High School. Priscilla Champagne, Rhonda’s mother, said Wednesday that she was incredibly thankful she got the chance to see her daughter one more time in a private viewing. She said it took about a week to bring Rhonda LeRocque’s body home to Massachusetts.
Online, Champagne has received messages from people all over the world who want to pay their respects and honor her daughter’s life.
“I feel like today I’m going through all five stages of grief,” Champagne said. “I’m angry, confused, just mentally exhausted.”
Though emotional, Champagne said she’s “so proud of the person [Rhonda was]. I couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.”
There are two online fund-raisers currently in place for Jason LeRocque and his daughter. Susan Amato, who owns Angelina’s Italian Restaurant in Tewksbury, is giving 10 percent of her gross for the whole week to the LeRocque family.
“It’s just, I don’t know, it just affected everybody,” Amato said of the tragedy. “You say, ‘What can you do?’ You don’t want to do something they can’t use. You don’t want to give them things they don’t need. So we use the business.”
Amato’s business Facebook page has become a kind of tribute to Rhonda. She said she’s gotten thousands of views in just a few days.
“I put something out there to let the town know we’re doing this,” Amato said of her fund-raiser. “She’s one of us. We should do something to make the family a little happier right now.”Cristela Guerra can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.