Funeral held for NW Ind. trainer killed by whale

Funeral service program for Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau pictured in this photo by ABC 7 reporter Jason Knowles.

March 2, 2010 7:38:51 AM PST
Family and friends gathered on Chicago's Southwest Side to remember Dawn Brancheau, who died while working with a whale at SeaWorld.

The Indiana native was grabbed by a killer whale at the Orlando, Fla., park last week. There was no comment Monday from the Brancheau family-- just a message in the funeral program thanking loved ones for all of their support the past few days.

During the funeral mass at Saint Rita Of Cascia Shrine Chapel, one of her nephews spoke about his Auntie Dawnie and said "to know her was to love her."

"You could just see it in her face. Every day, she loved what she did," said Michael Van Wagner, family friend.

Brancheau died doing what she loved. The 40-year old was a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando. She was killed last week when a 12,000 pound killer whale named Tilikum pulled her underwater by her ponytail.

Brancheau's passion for whales and dolphins began after a family trip to SeaWorld when she was a child. As an adult, she dedicated herself to the animals she thought of as her own children.

"I have family members that are in the same profession. They love what they're doing. They're very proud of it. I don't think any single one of them would change their profession today as a result of what happened to Dawn," said Ald. Michael Zalewski, 23rd Ward.

Brancheau grew up in northwest Indiana and attended Andrean High School in Merrillville. Her family has strong Chicago union ties. Her late father was a labor leader, as is her brother. Several politicians attended the funeral to pay their respects.

"We carefully chose songs to fit dawn and her personality? She seemed like a lovely person," said Terri Lenz, performed musical selections at the funeral.

Over the weekend, SeaWorld resumed its whale shows. Trainers were not in the water, and Tilikum was not among the whales that performed.

Brancheau leaves behind her husband Scott, whom she met at SeaWorld.

Memorial services for Brancheau will be held in Orlando at a later date.