It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Yvette Velasco was born with an “angel smile” on Easter Sunday in 1988, her family said. She grew up to be a woman who cared for her sisters’ children as if they were her own.
After graduating from college, she had worked her way up in San Bernardino County’s public health department, earning affection for her diligence and unsolicited acts of kindness.
But at age 27, her life was clipped short.
Velasco and 13 others were killed after one of her co-workers, Syed Rizwan Farook, and his wife stormed into a holiday gathering on Dec. 2 and sprayed the crowd with gunfire.
At a hilltop cemetery in Covina, Velasco’s family, friends and co-workers gathered Thursday under an overcast sky to remember her spirit and bid farewell. It was the first funeral for one of the victims.
“It has been a week of heartache,” said her father, Robert Velasco. “Unbearable pain.”
Six pallbearers had brought Velasco’s casket, covered in a flood of white roses, to the center of the stage as the solemn melody of The Smiths’ “Asleep” played in the background.
Robert Velasco, standing next to his daughter’s casket, faced the crowd seated before the cemetery’s four-story mausoleum and recalled how his daughter’s life paralleled his own career.
Born about the time he joined the California Highway Patrol, Yvette had served as his guardian and his family’s protector, he said.
Her death came only weeks after he retired as a lieutenant in CHP’s office in San Bernardino. Among the rows of mourners stood dozens of uniformed CHP officers.
Her three sisters, who held hands as they walked past the casket, said that their youngest sibling dispensed sage advice on fashion, careers and other life decisions.
“Yvette was our north,” one sister said. “Our guiding light.”
Friends such as Michael Nguyen, 26, later said her personality was a blend of gentleness and fierce intelligence. Nguyen, now an instructor at Cal State San Bernardino, refused to name Velasco’s killers.
“This day is about Yvette and we’re going to keep it that way,” he said.
Memories of the Fontana native drew a few laughs.
Co-worker Jennifer Osorio read aloud notes written by those who had worked alongside Velasco. One recalled her constant snacking and affinity for energy drinks. Another wrote that Velasco’s nickname was “mouse” because she was so quiet — she’d sneak up on folks.
“You didn’t need to do that,” he told her. After all, he had only been her boss for a week.
She smiled, he recalled, and told him, “I wanted to.”
In the crowd, a woman wrapped her arm around a boy next to her and they swayed. Nearby, a woman with a navy-colored lanyard labeled “Department of Public Health” dangling from her purse sobbed and nuzzled her head into the chest of the man next to her.
Olivia Velasco, 60, a cousin of Robert Velasco, said her extended family was already tight-knit. Each year, dozens of the brood gathered at El Dorado Park for a reunion. She was hopeful that the tragedy would draw them even closer.
“We’re going to support each other,” she vowed.
The ceremony was initially scheduled to be private but the family later allowed reporters to document from several yards away. The funeral was among several vigils and memorials that have taken place on campuses, in parks and at public buildings.
At an outdoor vigil Thursday night in a park in Colton, Pastor Dane Aaker acknowledged the horrors of last week’s attack, but added: “God can take even those things that are tragic and evil and God can use them for good.”
Less then a block from the Inland Regional Center, the site of the rampage, hundreds of candles and bouquets filled the sidewalk, with notes praising emergency responders and pledging support for those killed.
In green marker, one note says, “Nobody will be forgotten.”
To commemorate Velasco, her family released doves at her funeral. First, one dove was released, signifying her spirit. Next 20 doves flew out, with the larger number signifying unity for the family and friends who had gathered to say goodbye.
Leaving the stage, Robert Velasco peeked at a picture of his daughter near the casket. She’d worn a white dress for the photo and had her arms outstretched, as if flying.
He started to cry. He whispered, “God bless you,” as he looked up to the sky.
Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts and Soumya Karlamangla contributed to this report.