By Shawn Cohen, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News
TARRYTOWN, N.Y. - A 21-year-old Hofstra University junior and an armed intruder were fatally shot in an overnight break-in near the school's Long Island campus, police said Friday.
The victim is Andrea Rebello, who grew up in Tarrytown, N.Y., about 30 miles away. Her identical twin sister, Jessica, also was in the house at the time but was unharmed.
"It's my daughter, my baby daughter," her father, Fernando Rebello, said through his tears shortly after returning to the family home around 2:30 p.m. Friday after traveling to Hofstra in Hempstead, N.Y. on Long Island. "She was so beautiful."
"I'm so confused. I don't know what to do," he said. The father would not comment on the circumstances of the incident. "I cannot say anything."
The Rebello sisters, another woman and a man were in the two-story house in nearby Uniondale, N.Y., when a gunman wearing a ski mask forced his way in, said Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lack of the Nassau County Police.
The intruder allowed one woman to leave, and she immediately called 911. The shootings occurred around the time police arrived, about 2:30 a.m. It wasn't clear who fired the fatal shots or how many rounds were fired, but authorities said police were involved in the shooting.
An official told the Associated Press that the woman who left the house called 911 from near an automated-teller machine. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
Andrea Rebello and her twin, who also attends Hofstra, were inseparable, said Principal Carol Conklin-Spillane of Sleepy Hollow High School here, where the women graduated. The principal, who had been looking at photos of Andrea, recalled her as someone who was always smiling.
"It's just very hard to imagine that this lovely young life could be gone," Conklin-Spillane said.
"She's a lovely young woman; she and her sister were terrific kids all through high school," Conklin-Spillane said. "What was special about them was they were each other's best friends and twins. We are just heartbroken."
Conklin-Spillane said Andrea Rebello was a hard worker and very social.
"She tackled things with enthusiasm. She was highly respected by her teachers, and they really felt privileged to have her in class."
As news of Andrea Rebello's death spread to faculty members Friday, Conklin-Spillane they had "a general sense of disbelief." Speaking to the school community, she said, "We just need to keep her and her family in our thoughts."
Jack Phelan and his wife, Jane, neighbors of the Rebellos, spoke of the twins as exceptionally beautiful girls.
"These parents were unusually dedicated to those two girls," Jack Phelan said. "They were concerned they had the best of everything." The Rebello family told Phelan that the twins recently moved out of a dorm and off campus and were living with four other girls.
"It's heartbreaking," he said. "It must be very hard on the surviving parents and particularly her twin. They were very close." Phelan said the twins' Rebello father works as a general contractor in the area. Two police cars were parked Friday afternoon near the Rebello home.
"What we do know is that a young member of the Hofstra family has been taken from us in a senseless act of violence. Our hearts and minds and our thoughts and prayers are with her family, her friends, and her classmates," President Stuart Rabinowitz of Hofstra University, said in a statement.
Victoria Dehel, who lives four houses away, said she had heard what sounded like fighting. At first, she ignored it, figuring it might have been rowdy students coming home from a bar.
Suddenly, "This girl was shrieking," followed by loud bangs just seconds later.
"It didn't sound good at all," Dehel said. "I turned to my boyfriend and I said, 'I think someone just got murdered.' It was awful."
A dozen police cars swooped in. Some officers carried protective shields.
Dehel and her boyfriend started to go outside, but police yelled at them to go back into their house.
The university sent a text alert to notify students and staff about the incident.
On Friday morning, the elementary school across the street from the crime scene was closed and streets in the area were still sealed off.
"Today is the last day of finals, and this should be a happy day on campus. But it's not," said Hofstra freshman Scott Aharoni of Great Neck, N.Y., as he passed through the area rife with yellow crime-scene tape. "It's really sad."
Hofstra's graduation will go ahead as planned Sunday.
"While our hearts are laden with grief, this weekend's commencement ceremonies will go on as scheduled," Rabinowitz said. "The accomplishments of our graduates must be recognized, and together our community will heal and find the strength to move forward."
Hofstra is a private, non-sectarian college created in 1935 as an extension of New York University that gained independence in 1963. Tuition, room and board costs about $47,800 a year.
As of fall 2012, student enrollment was 11,090 students, about 7,000 of whom were undergraduates.
Some 3,800 students live in the college's 37 residence halls, the rest either commute or live off campus.
The college was the site of two presidential debates, in 2008 and 2012. The 2008 debate between President Barack Obama and John McCain was known for the introduction of "Joe the Plumber."
Contributing: Lee Higgins and Randi Weiner, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News; and The Associated Press