LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- Hundreds of Las Cruces residents filled the Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to mourn the Las Cruces soldier who recently died in combat in Afghanistan.
"It didn't seem real," said Adrian Benavidez, who told ABC-7 he grew up with Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rey Rodriguez. "It tore me apart. Knowing that someone I grew up with, a brother of mine, is never going to be seen again."
Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in early March.
In Friday's funeral mass, Father Alex Ureña invited parishioners to describe the character of Sgt. First Class Rodriguez.
Members of the church used descriptors like 'brave,' 'compassionate,' 'fearless,' 'a kind brother' and 'a child of God.'
Father Ureña preached about the mystery of life, asking that parishioners be grateful for the 28 years that Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez spent on this earth, before he made the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedom of the country.
The body of Sgt. 1st Class Rodriguez was flown from Afghanistan to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and then was brought to Las Cruces earlier this week for a funeral procession in which hundreds lined the route from the airport to the funeral home to pay tribute to him.
He was remembered Thursday night with the rosary at the Cathedral.