NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - There was something about Florence Obado that everyone in New Brunswick adored, something that made them greet her with a big hello and an even bigger hug.
What Freddie Obado and his family didn't realize was that there are untold number of people across the country and around the world who say she was a light that brightened their lives.
The outpouring of love and support from people Obado didn't know his mother knew has astounded and comforted him, his dad and his siblings in the days since an accident took her life.
Florence Obado, 73, was killed Friday morning when a Raritan Valley Line train 5711 struck her car at the Cedar Avenue grade crossing in Middlesex Borough, according to a statement released b NJ Transit. The passenger, Susan Mazurek, 44, of Middlesex, was also killed, authorities confirmed.
It's been a time for Obado, his father, Enos and Obado's two siblings to grieve, but also to take solace in the fact that she was, as Freddie put it, everybody's mom.
"I'm getting calls from all over the world, telling me that if they had a problem or something, they would call my mom," Obado said. "I would go, 'You're in London. What would you call my mom for?' (My mom) was that person. Someone from Texas just called me and said, 'My mom died five years ago. For five years, your mom was my mom.' We didn't know what she meant to other people. We knew she was a special person ,but we didn't know that."
There is so much that the family doesn't know about the day her car was hit directly on its side by a commuter train.
Florence, who worked at a group home in Piscataway, was driving a patient to her job. She treated Susan, who lived with disabilities, like a daughter. She cared for her so much, Susan was a guest in the Obado home at the family Christmas party.
Freddie Obado, a New Brunswick firefighter, went to the scene of the accident. He said he had to see it for himself. Looking at the area where commuter and freight train tracks run parallel, he wonders if her car might have become trapped in between the gates.
He also wonders if Mazurek was unable to get out of the car.
"I know that my mom was the type of person where if she could have gotten out of the car, but Susan couldn't get of the car, she would have stayed in the car," he said. "She wouldn't leave anyone hanging."
NJ Transit officials on Friday said the cause of the accident is still under investigation, but that safety equipment at that crossing was in working order.
Florence and Enos came to the United States from Kenya in the early 1970s looking for a better life. They brought three children with them: Freddie, Dennis and Victoria, who passed away a few years ago. Jule, the youngest, was born in the United States.
Enos went to work in a factory, she worked for decades as a secretary at Johnson & Johnson. They were married for more than 50 years.
After retiring from J&J, she worked as a caregiver in several group homes, Freddie said. After talking about retiring several times over the years, she decided she would finally follow through in early 2020. She wanted to spend more time with her five grandchildren.
"I would say, 'Mom, you don't have to work anymore,'" Freddie said. "She would say, 'I know but I want to work to help you guys out.'"
There will likely be two funerals: one in New Jersey and one in Kenya. The one here probably won't be held for a few weeks, Freddie said.
That will give him enough time to respond to the 500 or so text messages he's gotten from friend and people who knew his mom. Some of those messages have also come from fellow firefighters who used to gather around her dining room table for a home-cooked meal after a long shift.
"My mom wanted to take care of them," Freddie said. "That's just the type of person she was."