UPDATED 03/18/17 12:29 a.m.
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The family of veteran FDNY emergency medical technician Yadira Arroyo was mourning her loss Friday, a night after police said was struck and killed by her own ambulance that had just been stolen in the Bronx.
Arroyo, 44, was a mother of five boys ranging in age from 7 to 23, and a friend to many. She served the FDNY for 14 years.
As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported exclusively, Arroyo’s family gathered at home Friday night to take comfort and pride in the legacy she left behind.
“I went and I held her hand and I told her that I loved her, and I told her she’s in a better place right now,” said Arroyo’s son Jose Montes, 23.
It was a moment that Montes will never forget – the goodbye he never saw coming.
“I kissed her hand I don’t know how many times,” he said.
On Friday night, Jose Montes and his 22-year-old brother, Edgar, sat inside their Bronx apartment in quiet shock that the woman who gave them everything was gone.
“I miss her. Of course, you know, I love her,” Edgar Montes said. “And I feel like I didn’t tell her enough. But I think she understands now.”
Layton asked Jose Montes what his mother taught him.
“How to be tough, and also how to make other people smile,” he replied.
And for anyone mourning the brave and beautiful woman – her sons had one request.
“Don’t feel sorry for me because I know my mom is going to protect me from a higher place,” Jose Montes said.
Arroyo has three more sons ages 19, 16 and 7. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
Meanwhile, as CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, Arroyo was honored Friday afternoon with a bunting ceremony at EMS Station 26, 1264 Boston Rd., where she worked. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-The Bronx), and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. were among those present.
At the bunting ceremony, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the FDNY would be celebrating 152 years of service to the city this St. Patrick’s Day, but the department instead is in mourning.
“We will with her family celebrate her life. We will mourn her death. We will stand strong together as this department has done for 152 years. We’ll be there for one another, and we will celebrate what this department means to the city, which means that we area department that serves every community in New York and serves it well,” Nigro said.
He said no one exemplified that spirit better than Arroyo.
Arroyo’s FDNY colleagues also spoke at the ceremony. Capt. Joseph Jefferson said, “Rarely do you find a member that’s so dedicated” as Arroyo.
Lt. George Lampon called Arroyo the “matriarch” of her station.
“She was not only a mother of five, but she was a mother to 100, plus people who work here,” he said.
Arroyo was also remembered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday. Cardinal Timothy Dolan had a special message for members of the FDNY.
”Commissioner Nigro and our firefighters and rescue workers who are mourning the loss, our prayers and our sympathy; our solidarity with you,” Dolan said.
Dolan paid tribute to Arroyo and other first responders during a St. Patrick’s Day mass.
Members of the FDNY marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade also honored Arroyo with a banner displaying her picture and name with the words “Rest in Peace.”
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, Arroyo’s brother, Joel Rosado, recently became an EMT himself. He said he watched his sister take aim at a life-saving profession and make it happen.
“She just saw the school down the block and she went for it,” he said. “She took me to work and I saw what she really had to do and how she was taking care of people, and she did what she had to do – and inspired me.”
Arroyo was well-known both as the professional she became and for the parent she was before that. There are pictures of her proud in her FDNY uniform and caring for her five children.
Monica Salazar, a neighbor, is engaged to Arroyo’s brother. She used words like “dedicated” and “spunky” to describe Arroyo – a life force no one was prepared to lose.
“She was an amazing person. She was a single mother. She put herself through EMT school, got in the Fire Department, and served them for 14 years. She did it all on her own,” Salazar said. “She died doing what she loved, protecting her partner.”
On Thursday night in the Soundview section of the Bronx, Arroyo and her partner were heading to a call when a passerby told them a man was hanging on the back of their ambulance.
The EMTs stopped and confronted the man – identified by police as Jose Gonzalez, 25. Police said Gonzalez jumped in the driver’s seat, put the ambulance in reverse, knocked Arroyo down and ran her over, and took off.
Arroyo was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital.
The hijacked ambulance struck five vehicles before running into a snowbank and crashing with smoke pouring out.
Authorities said Gonzalez was grabbed by off-duty Metropolitan Transportation Authority police K9 Officer Daniel McDade, aided by other Good Samaritans.
“I was just glad I was there to stop the threat,” McDade said. “And you know what? If it stopped, maybe, him from doing something else, then maybe that’s OK.”
As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, McDade was on his way to work at Grand Central Station at the time and was driving behind the ambulance. It also happened to be his 38th birthday.
The magnitude of the tragedy was hard to absorb.
“It’s terrible. Any loss of life would be terrible, and then, when it’s a brother or sister in blue, regardless if it’s MTA, NYPD; FDNY, in this case — it’s a horrible situation,” McDade said.
Overnight, Arroyo’s fellow members of the FDNY saluted as Arroyo’s body was removed from Jacobi Medical Center, where hours before they rushed to be with her.
Her brother said he got a call moments after his sister was killed, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.
“I lost it and I just went straight to the hospital, the fire department picked me up,” he said. “Nobody’s doing well. Everybody’s devastated. Everybody doesn’t believe it still. I don’t believe it.”
Also at the hospital was Arroyo’s partner. She was injured in an attempt to fight off the suspect.
Arroyo is the eighth member of the FDNY EMS to die in the line of duty and the third woman.
“We know our EMTs are brave. They do crucial work, they save lives. But they should not ever have to be subjected to violence,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday night. “And yet, that danger always exists for them.”
Arroyo was from Fordham and had a big family. The mayor said they gathered at her hospital bed Thursday in “unspeakable” grief.
“She started her day, her shift today like every other day and then a senseless act of violence takes her life,” de Blasio said. “It’s a tough moment for all, but it’s a moment where we honor those who serve us and protect us.”
Rosado said their parents are coming up from Florida. He also said his sister was engaged to an EMT and that one of her sons is currently in training to be an EMT.
“A loving mother, she’s very caring. She was an amazing person,” he said. “Everybody knows that. Everybody who knows her known that.”
On Twitter late Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called her death a “tragedy.”
“EMTs are heroes who help countless New Yorkers every day,” he said. “My deepest sympathies to the family.”
Meanwhile, defendant Gonzalez appeared in Bronx Criminal Court Friday on murder and other charges.
He was ordered remanded without bail and his attorney asked for a medical evaluation, CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported.
The courtroom was packed with a tearful crowd of EMTs. Gonzalez looked out to the spectators when he walked out and said, “Where’s my family?” Carrasco reported.
Gonzalez has no serious felonies on his record, but many contacts with police. Sources said he is a member of the Bloods street gang with 31 prior arrests – most recently on Feb. 25 for criminal mischief.
Earlier arrests include assault, drug charges, and public lewdness, Aiello reported. On three occasions, he was taken into custody as an emotionally disturbed person.