Jessica Frantes answered a knock at her door in a sparkly tulle skirt, a flower headband in her hair, and gazed up to see Santa Claus on the front steps.

The 5-year-old's smile only widened when Santa - played by a Winslow Township police officer - led her to a sleigh filled with presents.

It was a day of hugs and tears for family and friends of Jessica, who saw her mother killed just five months ago - and for the men and women who responded to the scene that day.

Police say Jennifer Bongco, 42, was stabbed more than 50 times by her boyfriend, Kevin Ambrose, near her home on July 25. Ambrose then dropped Jessica off at home, authorities say, before dumping Bongco's body on the side of the road a few blocks away.

Ambrose, 52, is being held on $2 million bail awaiting trial.

On Sunday morning, about 20 members of the police and fire departments met at police headquarters to load cars with wrapped packages, stuffed animals, and a light-blue tricycle. A fire truck decorated in lights led the caravan to the Sewell apartment where Jessica now lives with her father.

Lt. George Smith, one of about 10 responders on the day of the killing, organized the visit.

"It was a pretty horrific scene, probably the worst murder I've ever seen. It was a rough night for all of us, so a bunch of my guys came back saying, 'Can we do something for these kids?' " Smith said.

Police officers donated money, and the department bought gift cards for Maria Bongco, Bongco's 20-year-old daughter, and took the rest of the cash to Toys R Us for a shopping spree. The Deptford store gave the department 40 percent off the cost of the 50 gifts purchased.

On Sunday afternoon, Jessica gently tore open a Barbie Dreamhouse, a Crayola Art set, and a play make-up kit. After the fifth gift, she smiled shyly at the assembled crowd and said, "I think that's enough," and walked over to hug her sister.

"I missed you," she told Bongco. The sisters had not seen each other in nearly three months. After their mother's death, Jessica went to the Philippines with her father to visit with family, and Maria Bongco moved to Virginia with her boyfriend, a Marine stationed at Quantico.

Maria Bongco said her younger sister, who attends therapy once a week, keeps her strong.

"Every time I'd cry, my sister would see me cry and say, 'Don't cry. Mommy doesn't want you to cry.' So now I try to focus on school and making her proud," Bongco said.

She finished her first semester at Everest College, where she is studying to become a nurse, like her mother, with a 97 percent average.

The night of Bongco's murder, police arrived at her home on Duke Drive in Winslow and spoke with Jessica, who was covered in her mother's blood. According to court documents she told police, "Kevin hurt Mommy."

Police were then dispatched to Erial Road, where they found Bongco's body. Ambrose was arrested in Atlantic City the next day.

Officer Jeff Wyld was first to respond.

"It's nice to have a happy ending because you don't get to see that. Normally, we deal with the bad stuff, these really terrible scenes, and we don't get to see what happens later," Wyld said.

Smith said the day showed police officers "are people, too."

"The generosity of officers putting this together is wonderful. Amid all the protests that are going on, no matter what view you have, you still have compassion for human beings to help another person out, especially over the holidays."

jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876

@juliaterruso