Amber Morrow’s father, Andrew Morrow, with photographs of his daughter and other family members. Morrow’s mother, Jen Morrow, said that she knew her daughter was transgender when she was only a child.

Amber Morrow’s father, Andrew Morrow, with photographs of his daughter and other family members. Morrow’s mother, Jen Morrow, said that she knew her daughter was transgender when she was only a child. Staff photo by John Ewing

SACO — Amber Pearl Morrow had a knack for compliments.

Without hesitation and almost as an instinct, Morrow could pick out a stranger’s lipstick shade, the cut of a jacket or the warmth of someone’s smile – and with a few friendly words, make a connection.

Even when society seemed bent on rejecting her, Morrow, who was transgender, met the world with unfailing kindness, her family and friends said.

“She was always willing to try to make somebody smile, even if she was having a bad day,” said Morrow’s mother, Jen, 40, of Saco.

Amber Morrow, found dead Jan. 23, is shown with Alice Pare, her grandmother.

Amber Morrow, found dead Jan. 23, is shown with Alice Pare, her grandmother. Photo courtesy of the Morrow family

Together with more than 100 relatives and friends, the Morrow family gathered Monday at the First Parish Congregational Church, United Church of Christ to reflect on Amber’s life and to grieve.

Morrow, 21, and former Town Councilor Dana Furtado, 44, were found dead Jan. 23 in his Old Orchard Beach home. The cause of both deaths remains under investigation.

During an emotional funeral service, her friends and family spoke about how from an early age Morrow lived life on her own terms, and was never apologetic for being herself. She was born on June 8, 1995. Jen Morrow said her oldest child came out to her as a young teenager, but she had known about her daughter’s emerging gender identity since the child started to walk.

Morrow adopted the name Amber because it was one of the names Jen Morrow had selected if she had given birth to a girl.

When Morrow began to tell her mom what was going on inside, Jen Morrow was one step ahead.

“We were driving around and she said, ‘I think I know what’s wrong with me,’ and I said, ‘Let me guess, you’re a girl,’ ” Jen Morrow recalled. “We went back home and we talked and we cried and we talked and we cried and then we started our journey.”

Raquel Miller, who met Morrow in elementary school, said Morrow had a natural ability to project her energy and confidence onto other people, and that in some ways, helping others was a defense against the constant torments she suffered for being different. Helpfulness and kindness were ways to redirect the pain Morrow could not avoid, Miller said.

“Watching the transformation of her coming into the skin she was meant to be in, to see her true beauty, was the most amazing thing,” said Miller, 21.

Morrow was also vivacious and spontaneous. One day in seventh grade, Morrow concocted a plan for her and Miller to walk to Boston by following the Amtrak train tracks.

Amber Morrow, left, and Jen Morrow, who said her daughter "was always willing to try to make somebody smile, even if she was having a bad day.”

Amber Morrow, left, and Jen Morrow, who said her daughter “was always willing to try to make somebody smile, even if she was having a bad day.” Photo courtesy of the Morrow family

Another time, Miller said, Morrow and a couple of others sneaked out of the house and went to a nursery and garden center in Saco and changed around the letters on the sign to deliver a playful message referencing the Harry Potter books.

It read, “Voldemort is coming. Run, Muggles,” said Miller’s mother, Amy Juneau, 56, of Boston.

The two were like sisters, Miller said.

Sometimes the spontaneity scared Miller, however. But Morrow taught her how to be brave, she said.

School was often not a happy place for Morrow. Although she connected there with lifelong friends, including Miller, hallways and classrooms turned into battlegrounds of taunts, sneers, insults and assaults. Morrow often stood up for herself, but the onslaught continued.

The deep feelings of pain and separateness she felt from her peers never faded, her family and friends said. Morrow developed anxiety, a condition she lived with always, and avoided crowds.

Bryan Combs, who was close with Amber Morrow, said that after eating one night with her family, shown here, it was clear to him that Morrow was loved and protected.

Bryan Combs, who was close with Amber Morrow, said that after eating one night with her family, shown here, it was clear to him that Morrow was loved and protected. Photo courtesy of the Morrow family

In high school at Thornton Academy, the abuse worsened, Jen Morrow said. A school resource officer had to walk Morrow to her classes, or else she would be spat on and cursed at, or have things thrown at her. One day after school, Jen Morrow said, a group of teenagers in a car chased Morrow as she walked home, threatening that if they caught her, they would have a “fag drag,” Jen Morrow said. Finally, in her sophomore year – on the verge of dropping out of school entirely – Morrow transferred to the Old Orchard Beach-Saco alternative education program. Her teacher, Christine Adams, said Morrow was broken and beaten down when she arrived.

Police are investigating the deaths of Amber Morrow and former Old Orchard Beach Town Councilor Dana Furtado.

Police are investigating the deaths of Amber Morrow and former Old Orchard Beach Town Councilor Dana Furtado.

“She was full of life, but you could tell she was hurt inside, and wanted to be accepted for who she was,” Adams said.

She found that acceptance in Adams’ class. Morrow spent her days reaching out to other students, looking for ways to connect with them, and sponging up the academic material. When she graduated, Morrow received awards for her helpfulness to others and for the highest academic achievement, and was inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society. She had a passion for fashion design, photography and art, and dreamed of being a designer.

After graduation, when Morrow was 19, she met Bryan Combs through a mutual friend. Although he was 12 years older that Morrow, it was love at first sight. “I had this instant feeling that I met her before,” he said.

Combs, now 33, said he remembers meeting Morrow’s family and eating dinner at her house. Morrow’s dad, Andrew, happily chowed down on shrimp scampi, a special treat.

Combs sat up straight, his napkin in his lap, and answered Jen Morrow’s fusillade of questions.

He could see that she was loved and protected. Soon enough, he was the one loving and protecting her too.

“Anyone who took the time to talk to her loved her, liked her,” Combs said. “But there’s so many hateful, ignorant people who can’t accept difference.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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