Chris Smith held an emotional candlelight vigil in honor of his girlfriend Petara Cordero, who died after being struck by a car earlier this month. She was 26.
“I know you all loved @tarajesss, so tomorrow night we will celebrate her life & showcase our love for her at this candlelight vigil,” the Cleveland Browns defensive end, 27, wrote on Instagram before the vigil. “Balloons & candles are welcomed. Thank you for all your support. #StayStrong.”
Family members and friends shared videos as they remembered Cordero’s life, including clips of Smith, who spoke during the celebration of life.
“People look at me, [and say,] ‘Your girlfriend passed away in your arms, how do you have so much joy?’ [It’s] the spiritual strength that’s in me that God would send me,” he said. “I know her. I gave her anything she wanted… the one tattoo she had was ‘stay strong’ and if I gave my baby anything she wanted, I have to give her that and stay strong.”
“I don’t have no more tears, God knows she’s in a better place,” he later added. “She’s in a better place with the Lord.”
During the vigil, he also thanked his mother, who encouraged him to go to church “to prepare me for this moment right here.”
Smith added, “I know God don’t make no mistakes.”
Cordero was a passenger in Smith’s Lamborghini when a tire blew out, causing their vehicle to swerve and hit a median on I-90 West in Cleveland, according to a statement from the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 11.
Cordero exited the car uninjured, only to be struck by an oncoming Mazda, local station News 5 reported. After being taken to Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital, Cordero was pronounced dead.
The driver of the Mazda admitted to drinking before the accident, and a toxicology report is pending, Cleveland police told CNN. Smith was not impaired, both the Browns’ statement and CNN reported.
The fatal incident occurred just weeks after the pair welcomed their daughter Haven Harris Smith.
The candlelight vigil for Cordero comes days after Smith hit the field with his team Monday night against the New York Jets.
“I am going to play tonight because it is something she would want me to do,” he said in a statement to PEOPLE. “She would want me to keep doing what I love and stay strong. I play for her tonight. She is my why.”
For his first game back, the athlete played with cleats that were engraved with her phrase “stay strong.”
Earlier this week, Smith spoke out about his beloved in his first statement on social media since her tragic death.
“God has a plan for all of us we can’t understand but she is in a better place now and she can rest easy,” Smith captioned a photo of his wife. “My wifey my best friend and the mother of my beautiful daughter. Love you baby.”
Nearly a month before the crash, the couple had welcomed their “beautiful gift in this world” Haven Harris Smith.
“This little girl has filled my heart with so much joy and love !!” Cordero announced on Instagram. “I’m so thankful that God chose me to be her mommy!! So excited for this life journey with you!!! Haven Harris Smith.”
And just days before she died, the new mom posted a photo of Smith kissing her on the forehead.
“This a forever thing, I love you through everything,” she wrote.
Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who are owners of the Cleveland Browns, offered words of support for Smith, who was excused from team activities to grieve “as he sees best fit.”
“Words cannot describe the sorrow we feel for Chris following the loss of his girlfriend, Petara. Our entire organization mourns with Chris, his family and the Cordero family,” the Haslam’s statement read. “We will do everything possible to offer them our support, comfort and any resources in this most difficult time.”
Cordero’s family is scheduled to host a homecoming service in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday from 12 to 2 p.m.
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