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NEW YORK – Emergency medic Yadira Arroyo was beloved — by her colleagues, by patients she transported to the hospital, by the store owner she spoke to on her way to work and by children who walked by her Bronx station house.
The 14-year veteran of the New York Fire Department and mother of five sons, killed March 16 when she was struck by her own ambulance that had been stolen, was remembered Saturday by thousands of mourners who packed a Bronx church and poured into the streets.
"Most of all, she was a hero," said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. "She died as one, but most importantly, she lived as one."
Arroyo, 44, and her partner, Monique Williams, were responding to a call of a pregnant woman in distress when they were flagged down by a pedestrian about a theft, authorities say. Arroyo got out of the vehicle and a man darted into the driver's seat and ran her down before crashing into parked cars. The horrific scene was captured on bystander video and shows Williams sobbing in the street over her fallen partner.
Nigro said emergency medical technicians do a dangerous job, but Arroyo did it time and time again, even during asthma attacks. She took her job very seriously.
Arroyo's partner attempted to give a reading, but could only cry at the lectern while another read in her place. Arroyo's aunt and 23-year-old son Jose Montes delivered eulogies, telling of a kind, brave and resilient woman who loved her job and loved her family.
"My mother wasn't perfect, she was excellent," Montes said. "The way she inspired me, the way she lights up the whole room with her wonderful laugh. On top of any other lessons she showed me to make me as tough and as gentle, as wise and a curious as I am now, she taught me how to listen. Because she listened."
Montes said that he missed her, but that he and his family would endure.
"Mommy's OK guys, and we're all OK," he said to his brothers, the youngest of whom is 7. "Because we all have each other."
Twenty-five-year-old Jose Gonzalez has been charged with murder in Arroyo's death. Authorities say Gonzalez hopped on the back of the ambulance, then darted into the driver's seat and ran Arroyo down after a man on the street flagged the vehicle down to say Gonzalez had stolen his backpack. Gonzalez told reporters he is innocent, while his lawyer said he's mentally ill and didn't act intentionally.
The streets outside of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Roman Catholic Church were crowded, where a large viewing large screen was set. Fire officials said first responders from Boston, Baltimore and Canada attended the funeral.
"The hearts of our city are broken today," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.