CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Several hundred people packed into the Swiss Center in Chula Vista to say goodbye to a 13-year-old boy who touched the community with his courage and kindness.
Jose Montano died nearly two weeks ago after a three-year battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. His parents and five siblings are thankful his suffering is over, but they are still coming to terms with burying their oldest son.
"Parents are supposed to go first, before kids go. It's hard to understand. It's hard to make sense of it all," said Jose Montano Sr.
Jose's mother, Veronica Montano, could be heard hysterically crying as she walked into the center.
"Just the bond that makes my son form inside my wife, it's something only moms would understand," said Jose Montano.
Teachers at Southwest Middle School say Jose had a profound impact on his classmates.
"Students get a sense of the importance of giving, I guess, because of Jose and because of what he did with his life," said Antonio Ortiz.
What he did inspired nearly everyone he met. In 2012, the Make-A-Wish Foundation offered to fulfill one of his biggest dreams. Instead of choosing something for himself, Jose had a playground built for his classmates at Berry Elementary in Nestor.
The staff at Rady Children's Hospital also described him as an unforgettable patient. While he was in the hospital getting chemotherapy, he would walk around with a wagon, passing out snacks to other patients and their families.
Tuesday night, his family expressed gratitude for the outpouring of love and support.
"It's hard to lose a nephew. It's hard to lose a 13-year-old boy especially. We are thankful with all these people being with us, it is amazing," said Jose's uncle, Javier Montano.
Jose's cousin said losing Jose is like losing a brother.
"His kind voice, he was always so sweet. He would talk, and it would just sound to you like an angel," said Omar Montano.
The entire lacrosse team from Torrey Pines High School also attended the memorial. They made Jose an honorary member of the team after meeting him three years ago.
"He was just an amazing kid. Everything he did was to help other people and we really learned by that," said lacrosse player Owen Weselak.
Instead of flowers, the family is asking for new toys to donate to Jose's foundation, which provides toys for patients at Rady Children's Hospital.
Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at St. Charles Church. Burial will follow at Glen Abbey Cemetery.