Vanessa Bryant honors Kobe and 13-year-old daughter Gianna on Instagram: 'I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them'

Vanessa Bryant has spoken out for the first time following the death of her husband, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, and their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

In a heartbreaking statement, she thanked the millions who’ve shown support over the past few days and asked for privacy during a “horrific time.”

“We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri,” Bryant wrote. “We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately.”

Kobe, Gigi, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser and Kobe’s private pilot, Ara Zobayan, were all killed in Sunday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. They were heading from Orange County to Mamba Sports Academy.

Bryant was honest about how difficult things have been over the past few days.

“I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them,” she wrote. “But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.”

She encouraged people to donate to her late husband’s Mamba Sports Foundation to help further his and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports. Bryant also asked that people donate to a newly created MambaOnThree fund to support the other families affected.

Hours before releasing the statement, Bryant paid more subtle tribute to Kobe and Gianna. Fans noticed she changed her Instagram profile photo to one of her husband and child. In the picture, Gigi is looking up lovingly at her dad with her arm draped over his shoulder.

Vanessa Bryant changes profile photo to an image of Kobe and Gigi.
(Photo: Vanessa Bryant/ Instagram)

The sweet image was taken at the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto, the last of Kobe’s 18 appearances.

Vanessa Bryant changes Instagram photo to an image of Kobe and Gigi.
A larger version of Vanessa Bryant's new Instagram profile picture. (Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)

Vanessa and Kobe share four daughters: Natalia, 17, Gigi, 13, Bianka, 3, and 7-month-old Capri. The couple wed in April 2001, when he was 22 and she was just 18. Kobe frequently posted tributes to his “Queen” on Instagram.

“It’s an extremely difficult and devastating time for Vanessa and the whole family,” a source told People, adding that Vanessa is obviously “devastated.”

“She can hardly keep it together,” the insider said. “She can’t finish a sentence without crying. But she is working very hard to pull it together for the other girls. She now has to be the strong one.”

The source continued, “Of course, you can never be prepared for this. Despite their ups and downs, [Vanessa and Kobe] were soulmates. She thought of him as her partner for life.”

A second insider added, Vanessa “is surrounded by people who love her and love Kobe. She has a good support system. She is relying on her faith. She is not alone. But she will be grieving this for a very long time.”

TMZ founder Harvey Levin said in an interview this week that Vanessa was informed about the death of her husband and daughter before the website broke the news to the world.

“We dealt with Kobe's people for an hour before we published the story and we were told very clearly that [Vanessa] had been notified,” Levin said on KNX’s In-Depth. “We talked to Kobe’s people and we were dealing with them for an hour before we published the story and they said, ‘Go for it.’ At a point we were all trying to confirm it and we confirmed it, but they all knew and they said, ‘Go for it’ and they said she knew.”

In a 2018 interview, Kobe explained why he flew around southern California in helicopters: because he wanted to be a good dad.

“Even on weekends … traffic got really bad,” Kobe said on Barstool Sports’s “The Corp” podcast in 2018. “And I miss a school play because I am sitting in traffic. And these things kept mounting. I had to figure out a way to still train and focus on the craft but still not compromise family time. So that’s when I started looking into helicopters.”

Kobe added, “My routine was always the same. Weights early in the morning, kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, do my extra work, media, everything I needed to do. Fly back, get back in carpool line and pick the kids up.”

“My wife was like, ‘Listen, I can pick them up,’” Kobe recalled. “And [he said], ‘No, no, no. I want to do that.’”

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Watch: Kobe’s death prompts Stephen Colbert to make an impassioned plea for change:

Raechal Shewfelt contributed to this story, which was originally published on Jan. 29, 2020 at 5:26 p.m. ET.

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