"He was my teddy bear."
As Boston College student Katherine Corteselli shared memories of her best friend Franco Garcia, young college students sat alongside professors, priests, police officers and family members, dabbing tear-filled eyes with each recollection.
"He gave the absolute best hugs...what I'm going to miss the most are those hugs," Corteselli said during today's funeral Mass for Garcia.
Hundreds of people -- whether they knew Garcia or not -- flooded a St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill this morning to say one last goodbye to the Boston College student whose life was tragically cut short when he drowned in the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.
Garcia, 21, was a West Newton resident, a chemistry major and member of the school's marching and symphonic bands. He was set to graduate in just a couple of weeks.
Corteselli, also a senior, met Garcia during her first day at Boston College while getting fitted for her marching band uniform.
"We instantly became best friends," Corteselli recalled. "Once you met him, you felt like you knew him forever."
Today's funeral service came just one week after Garcia's body was found in the reservoir, ending a 50-day search that involved four different police organizations, a private investigator and countless volunteers.
"These past few months have been a time of great intensity...brought to the surface by how much love you have for [Garcia]," said Rev. Michael Nolan, who gave this morning's Homily.
"We gather this morning in certainty that Franco is no longer missing, but has gone to the Lord," Nolan said.
Garcia went missing in the early morning hours of Feb. 22 after joining his friends at Mary Ann's bar in Cleveland Circle. He was last seen around 12:18 a.m. when a nearby ATM security camera caught him walking near Chestnut Hill Avenue.
During his Homily, Rev. Nolan referenced the circumstances around Garcia's death, saying, "The place Franco made his way from [on Feb. 22] has hurt students, and will continue to do so."
"If anyone was involved with the circumstances of [Garcia's] death, let us pray for them," Nolan said.
As Garcia's casket was rolled into the church this morning, his large family followed behind in a somber procession. Garcia's younger brother and sister, Alejandro and Isabella, turned to their father Jose and buried their heads in his chest. Their mother, Luzmila, was helped along by family members as she fought to stay strong through the procession.
Many of those family members also participated in the service; his brother Gabriel and uncle Antonio offered readings and Isabella and Alejandro presented the offerings for Communion.
And while Garcia's memory was certainly there in the stories and prayers shared, he was also there in music. The Boston College Symphonic Band, of which Garcia was a member, filled the sanctuary with sound and, for a brief moment, ushered in a sense of hope and a feeling that the morning was truly a celebration of life.
"He had a kind and sensitive heart and had so much love inside of him," Corteselli said, recalling Garcia's friendship, caring nature and "beautiful smile."
The night he disappeared, Corteselli recalled, Garcia gave her one of his "teddy bear hugs," told her he loved her and said he hoped they would start hanging out more.
"I'll never know or understand why God took my best friend away from me so early," Corteselli said, choking back tears. "What I do know is that Franco was a gift from God. I feel blessed to have been his friend."