Video: Hundreds mourn fallen Del. firefighter

Cecilia Escobar Duplan received full FD honors at her funeral, plus New County Castle Police symbolically honored her wishes to become an officer


Isabel Hughes
Dover Post, Del.

NEW CASTLE, Del. — Mirian Duplan placed her right arm on her daughter's casket, cradling a folded American flag in her left beneath a beige funeral tent at Gracelawn Memorial Park in Minquadale on Thursday afternoon.

As she loosened her grip on a single red rose, letting it rest atop 25-year-old Cecilia Escobar Duplan's coffin, Duplan bowed her head, her eyebrows furrowing and lips quivering.

For the last several hours, the mother of five had remained composed.

When her eldest child's casket was brought to Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church near New Castle on Thursday morning, she and her family stood largely expressionless as firefighters lowered it from Wilmington Manor Volunteer Fire Company's antique fire engine.

Later, when her daughter's body was escorted off the engine at the cemetery, Duplan hid her grief, even as Wilmington Manor Fire Chief Stephen Maichle handed her the flag that had draped Escobar Duplan's casket.

But now, as Duplan touched her daughter's coffin for the final time, the sadness consumed her.

Several hundred men, women and children grieved with Escobar Duplan's family on Thursday as they bid farewell to the Wilmington Manor firefighter, who died last month while trying to aid a motorist who had crashed on I-95 in Wilmington.

Escobar Duplan was driving home from her shift as a security officer at West Chester University, where she was a student, around 4:15 a.m. when she came across the wreck.

She pulled onto the Delaware Avenue off-ramp and got out of her car to help the driver when she was hit by an older man. Police said the man could not see her due to weather conditions and lighting.

A selfless young woman who made it her mission to help those in need, Escobar Duplan's family and friends have repeatedly said they were not surprised that she was killed trying to provide aid.

Robin Bower, a neighbor who lives across from Escobar Duplan's family, reiterated that Thursday.

"She died the same way she lived," Bower said. "Ironically, I fell this morning after tripping over bricks in my yard and had to call 911 because I couldn't get up. My first thought was, 'She'd be right here in a heartbeat if she was alive.'

"She was always there for you, for anything you needed."

Standing next to her parents and brothers under the funeral tent Thursday afternoon, Escobar Duplan's sister clutched a certificate from New Castle County police, which had been set in a white frame.

Earlier in the day, officers had presented the family with the document to honor Escobar Duplan's efforts to become a Delaware officer. Though she loved firefighting and received full department honors at her funeral, for most of Escobar Duplan's life, she'd dreamed of being a police officer.

Because she was a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient — Escobar Duplan's family fled violence in Mexico when she was 5 — the young woman had been told she could not go into law enforcement. Delaware law requires officers to be U.S. citizens.

The repeated denials didn't deter Escobar Duplan, though, and she looked for any way to live out her dream.

Less than a month before she died, she came across a news article about 23-year-old Jose Gutierrez, who had just become a police officer in Connecticut.

Like Escobar Duplan, Gutierrez, a DACA recipient, had been told he couldn't enter law enforcement because of his citizenship status. But with help from his local police chief, Connecticut's police training council and state leaders, the 23-year-old had been approved to join his city's police force.

Escobar Duplan was ecstatic when she came across the news story about Gutierrez, her co-workers and family said. She believed if he had found a way to become an officer, she could too.

Though the two had never met, Gutierrez stood with dozens of Delaware first responders Thursday afternoon as Escobar Duplan was lowered into the ground.

As he surveyed the scene, he gave a half-smile.

"I became (an officer) not only for myself, but to open up the doors for everyone else to follow their dreams," Gutierrez said. "I wish I could have met ( Escobar Duplan) and helped her out. Her story means everything to me."

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(c)2021 Dover Post, Del.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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