Husband of fallen officer says wife died in unsuccessful attempt to rescue daughter in house fire

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A New Jersey law enforcement officer died in an attempt to rescue her young daughter from their burning house in the town of Hazlet, according to her husband.

Jacqueline Montanaro and her six-year-old daughter Madelyn died in the house fire early Saturday morning, reported NJ.com. Her husband William Montanaro and their eight-year-old daughter Elena survived.

The family was woken by fire alarms at around midnight Saturday morning, and Mr. Montanaro rushed to find his wife, two daughters and dog to help bring them outside to safety.

He, Jacqueline and their 8-year-old made their way through the house engulfed in smoke, making it difficult to see, before they eventually made it outside. But Madelyn was still in the home, so Mr. and Mrs. Montanaro ran back inside to retrieve their daughter.

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“When I rushed back into the house for Madelyn, I became enveloped in a massive amount of thick, hot black smoke,” Mr. 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,” he continued. 

Mr. Montanaro said his wife worked as a supervisory U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at Newark Liberty International Airport.

As smoke continued to fill the home, Mr. Montanaro managed to make his way back outside. However, his wife and youngest daughter failed to make it out.

“I am heartbroken. I have lost the love of my life – my beautiful wife, Jackie – and my sweet, loving, spunky little girl, Madelyn,” Mr. Montanaro said, adding that “Jackie was a hero.”

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Mrs. Montanaro and Madelyn were transported to the hospital for treatment in critical condition before they both died from their injuries.

It is unclear what started the fire, and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office told local media that the incident is under investigation.

Mr. Montanaro said in his statement that he is now focused on helping his surviving daughter receive the “support and help she’s going to need, so we can rebuild our lives together.”

He also said the family’s dog remains missing. Mr. Montanaro was searching Sunday with an organization called Hound Hunters for the Goldendoodle.

“A search continues for our beloved dog, Duchess,” he said. “Thank you to our neighbors and the scores of people, the Hazlet Police Department and surrounding communities’ law enforcement who have been, and continue to, press to find her.”

A GoFundMe page for the family started by Customs United Service Alliance, Mrs. Montanaro’ Customs’ union, raised more than $200,000 as of Monday morning.

“We cannot express in words how tragic the loss of this amazing Supervisor, Colleague, Friend, Mom and Hero is to our community,” the fundraiser read. “Jackie’s ability to get any job done at work was only second to her love and devotion to her family at home.”

The Monmouth County Council of the Boy Scouts Mr. Montanaro works for is also collecting donations for their Alumni Disaster Fund to support the family’s needs. 

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