LUTZ — Clara Jeanette Garcia still had adorable rolls of baby fat around her arms and legs.
She had yet to grow a full head of hair or learn to say mommy or daddy.
She was 5 months old when she was killed in a car crash last month.
“It pierces my heart," Pastor Edgar Aponte told some 300 people attending a public funeral service Wednesday at Idlewild Baptist Church. “She was developing her personality."
Still, Aponte said, pointing to the firefighters who made up two-thirds of the crowd, "the life of Clara Jeanette Garcia is both deep and long.”
Injured in the crash were the little girl’s father and mother, Pasco County firefighter Hunter Garcia and his wife Kayla. Both attended the service, the mother in a wheelchair, but they did not speak.
Chief Scott Cassin with Pasco County Fire Rescue reiterated the impact of the girl’s short life, telling the crowd, “She brought together an agency, a community and so many others, and shored up a bond that is stronger than it ever has been before.”
The crash occurred around 2 p.m. Sept. 13 on Van Dyke Road and Brown Road, east of Gunn Highway, according the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Four vehicles were involved. One of the vehicles ran a stop sign on Brown Road and hit another vehicle headed east on Van Dyke Road.
The crash is still under investigation, the Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.
Clara, her parents’ only child, died from her injuries two days after the crash. She had been properly secured in her car seat. Her fatal injuries may have been caused by something in the car or debris from the crash, Pasco Fire Rescue has said.
Hunter Garcia has worked with Pasco County Fire Rescue for just under two years. He is assigned to Fire Rescue Station 11 in Port Richey.
Chief Cassin recalled that Kayla Garcia was surprised to see him at the hospital.
“She said, ‘You are here to see me?’” Cassin said.
Little did she know the outpouring of support she would see from the firefighter community.
“I was only the tip of iceberg," Cassin recalled. "There were another 20 or so firefighters already waiting out in the hallway. She is part of our firefighter family … and we all look out for one another.”
In the weeks since the crash, firefighters from throughout the Tampa Bay area have offered financial and emotional support to the Garcia family.
“The number of lives that Clara has touched is extraordinary,” Cassin said. “She has taught us that the bonds that tie us together are stronger than before and that we all stand united in the shadow of unmistakable tragedy.”
At the end of the service, firefighters exited the church in single file and watched as Clara’s tiny white casket was loaded into a hearse bound for a private funeral.
“The baby that never walked,” Pastor Aponte said during the service, “the baby that never said daddy or mommy ... now walks and runs in glory with God.”