LOWELL — A joyful woman of God, Rhonda LeRocque would want her distraught family to keep faith as they struggle with her death in the mass shooting Sunday at a country music festival in Las Vegas, her mother said.
But, right now, Priscilla Champagne is tearfully grieving the 42-year-old daughter she still thinks of as her “baby girl.”
“Senseless,” Champagne said Tuesday at her home. “My first thought waking up this morning is, ‘I’ll never see my baby girl again.’ I loved her so much.”
LeRocque, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, was one 59 people murdered Sunday night in the worst mass shooting in modern US history.
“She prayed on everything,” said Champagne, whose home is filled with smiling family photographs. “Very God-oriented. I’m sure that Jehovah God is upset that one of his beautiful, beautiful people is no longer in this world.”
LeRocque was on a family trip with Jason, her husband of 21 years, and their 6-year-old daughter. They were the “perfect little family,” Champagne said. They had planned to go to Disneyland, in Anaheim, Calif., from Vegas, she said.
Jason’s father attended the concert with them. He had taken the couple’s daughter back to a hotel room when a gunman began shooting from a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino around 10 p.m.
At first, her son-in-law didn’t realize Rhonda had been shot and thought she was ducking bullets, Champagne said.
“He could never replace Rhonda,” Champagne said. “They enjoyed everything together. They were so in love.”
The couple, who lived in nearby Tewksbury, met at church. She thought he was cute. He took a shine to her. After two years of dating, they married.
“Between their faith and their love, they just grew closer and closer. Their dream was to move to Hawaii,” Champagne said.
Through their church, the couple took part in humanitarian projects. They had helped to rebuild homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“She was the definition of selfless,” said her sister, Korina Champagne, 29. “She always put everyone before herself. She really did set the bar so high. I don’t even know. This is so hard.”
LeRocque, who worked at a design firm in Cambridge, always made time for others.
“You just had to know her and love her like we do,” her mother said. “She was one in a billion.”
When she baby-sat her mother’s dog, she spoiled the pup with treats. She loved to entertain. An aunt, Yvonne Mason, remembered her niece decorating her home as a bistro for one of Mason’s wedding anniversaries. She lit candles and put flower petals in a bathtub
Another aunt, Gloria Murdock, recalled the light, joyous sound of her niece laughing in a room.
“I lost my best friend,” said Maria Simas, who lives down the street from LeRocque’s home in Tewksbury. “The last time I went over to her house, we had a glass of wine and talked about life. She was a beautiful person.”
The night LeRocque died, Champagne said, she felt something was amiss.
The two always shared a strong connection, a love of music, especially old country music.
“At 1:30 a.m in the morning I was talking on the phone to my friend and I said, ‘My Rhonda,’ ” Champagne said. “And I got a whole slew of emotion, and I couldn’t pinpoint why it came in my mind.”
She got the phone call just before 7 a.m. Monday. The phone rang twice.
“I answered and I said, ‘What’s the matter? What happened,’ ” Champagne said.
Her son-in-law said, “Rhonda got shot last night,” she recalled.
“I said, ‘No, no.’ ”
The family has been heartened by an outpouring of love and support. Champagne’s cellphone has been flooded with voice mail and text messages of sympathy and support.
“We’ll get through this,” Murdock said, hugging Mason and their niece.Cristela Guerra can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.