Cassandra Cline, 45, was attacked by an alligator Monday as she walked her dog on a community golf course at Sea Pines Plantation, a gated community on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where she and her husband own a home and had planned to retire.
"I've been down there many times with her and walking with her along the route that she takes and they never go near the water, they never irritate the alligators. She was very respectful," her mother, Julia Meza, told ABC News.
Cline of Binghamton, New York, worked as a kindergarten teacher for the nearby Union-Endicott Central School District for 16 years, school district officials said on Tuesday. She taught at George F. Johnson Elementary School in Endicott.
"Casi was a dedicated teacher working with our youngest students in their first year of school," district officials said in a statement. "She was a sweet, kind individual who was respected by her colleagues and loved by her students and their families."
Meza said Cline, whose nickname was "Sassie," was the best daughter any mother could have.
"She was just always happy and laughing," Meza said. "She would bend over backward to help someone. She'd give you the shirt off her back. She was a kind, generous and loving daughter, a good sister, a good wife."
On Monday, Cline was walking her dog, Kylie, near the 13th green of the community's golf course near her home, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
She was killed around 9:30 a.m. when the 9-foot-2-inch alligator went after her dog, officials said.
The alligator then attacked Cline, dragging her into the lagoon and pulling her under the water, officials said.
A greenskeeper at the golf course heard a woman screaming and saw her from afar in what he described as a "tug-of-war" with the alligator over the Sheltie dog's leash, said David Lucas, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
"What we are sort of surmising is that the alligator probably lunged at the dog, did not get the dog, but somehow got the leash in its mouth and then was pulling on it. The lady was pulling back, trying to get the leash free. And at some point, the alligator pulled her down into the water," Lucas told ABC News on Tuesday.
He said it appears the woman managed to free the dog by unhooking its collar from the leash.
While investigators suspect Cline was walking her dog near the water, Lucas said, Cline's mother disputed that.
She said Cline's husband received reports from witnesses that his wife was at least 14 feet from the edge of the lagoon when the alligator attacked.
"She's an intelligent woman. She knew better," Meza added. "It's a freak accident."
"She used to have two dogs and one of them just passed away two weeks ago," Meza said. "So she was very, very protective. She could not have children and they were her babies and she would never let anything happen to her babies and she would never put them in danger."
Meza said she was at work on Monday when her oldest daughter, her daughter's partner and his parents showed up to break the news.
"They sat me down and everybody was crying and they told me what happened," Meza said. "I just couldn't believe anything that freakish could happen."