HAZLET — As he mourns the love of his life and their young daughter, William Montanaro wants the world to know his wife died a hero.

The house fire that claimed the lives of Jacqueline Montanaro, a Customs and Border Protection officer, and 6-year-old Madelyn broke out at their home on Brookside Avenue in Hazlet just after midnight early Friday morning.

"Jackie was a hero," William Montanaro said in a statement. "When I rushed back into the house for Madelyn, I became enveloped in a massive amount of thick, hot black smoke. 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."

The rescue cost the mother her life. She succumbed to her injuries soon after. Devastatingly, Madelyn passed away Saturday afternoon.

"I am heartbroken. I have lost the love of my life – my beautiful wife, Jackie – and my sweet, loving, spunky little girl, Madelyn," Montanaro said. Their 8-year-old daughter Elena also survived the blaze. "I am now focused on getting my daughter the support and help she’s going to need, so we can rebuild our lives together."

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement Sunday that it was investigating the cause of the fire but that it did not appear suspicious.

Family dog Duchess dies in Hazlet fire

After the fire, Montanaro put out the word that their family dog Duchess, a golden doodle, had escaped the blaze and was missing.

The Hazlet community rallied, searching the surrounding neighborhood for the dog. Numerous lost animal groups on social media called on the public to help find Duchess.

Tragically, Duchess was later recovered in the home on Monday morning, Jacqueline Montanaro's sister Marisa Autera said on social media.

"We want to thank everyone for their extensive efforts in sharing posts and physically searching for her," Autera said. "We are extremely devastated Duchess is no longer with us, but we must remember she is now at rest along side Jackie and Madelyn."

NJ rallies around Montanaro family

In the days following the fatal house fire, thousands of people have shown their support for the Montanaros.

In addition to the search for Duchess, a GoFundMe for the family has raised over $237,000 from 3,000 donors as of Monday afternoon.

Numerous law enforcement agencies and other first responder groups expressed support for the fallen CBP officer's family. The Hazlet, Westfield, and Clark police along with the Italian American Police Society of NJ and Port Monmouth First Aid Squad were among those that gave their condolences on social media.

A vigil will be held Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. in Veterans Park in Hazlet, according to William Montanaro's brother Domenico Montanaro.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at richard.rickman@townsquaremedia.com

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