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Nurse Dies After She Is Knocked to Ground in Times Square

When a small community hospital in New Jersey was overrun with Covid patients, a cancer nurse dutifully showed up for work every night.

On Friday, with the worst days of the pandemic over, the nurse, Maria Ambrocio, 58, visited Times Square with a friend. But their outing turned tragic when she was knocked to the ground by a man who had snatched a cellphone and was running away, the police and officials at the Philippines consulate said.

Ms. Ambrocio, of Bayonne, N.J., was taken to Bellevue Hospital with a traumatic brain injury and died after she was taken off life support on Saturday.

After she fell to the ground, the suspect, Jermaine Foster, 26, crashed into a police officer who arrested him, the police said. He was ordered held in jail on charges of murder and robbery on Sunday, according to the police and court records.

The death of a Filipino American nurse in a random violent street crime drew outrage from Filipino government officials and Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is likely to become the city’s next mayor.

It was the latest incident in the city’s mental health crisis, which has seen people with serious and untreated mental illnesses arrested in crimes that include shoving people on the subway, killing sleeping homeless men and assaulting people of Asian descent. The city has struggled to come up with an effective remedy, said Tom Harris, the president of the Times Square Alliance.

“Our city needs to come together and solve these problems, and those of us who work in these areas are willing and able to help,” he said. “Let her death not be in vain.”

Though the police do not believe that Mr. Foster targeted Ms. Ambrocio, the Consulate General of the Philippines, which Ms. Ambrocio had just visited on Friday before her death, said in a Facebook post that the killing was the latest violence against a Filipino committed by a person who was homeless and mentally ill. Consular officials called for a more visible police presence in Times Square and more attention to mental health issues, particularly among the city’s homeless.

“How many more Maria Ambrocios do we have to mourn before the streets would be made safe again?” the consulate said in the post, which referred to her as “our kababayan,” a term used to describe fellow Filipinos.

Credit…via Facebook

Mr. Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, condemned Ms. Ambrocio’s death in a Twitter post, blaming the criminal justice system for failing to identify dangerous people and remove them from the streets.

“Again & again, we are seeing the deterioration of our City — & we cannot allow this to continue,” Mr. Adams said. He has called for expanding a law that allows judges to compel people suffering mental illness to receive treatment.

Mr. Foster had been arrested in September and charged with forcible touching after he groped a 30-year-old woman in Times Square, according to the police. Prosecutors asked for bail to be set at $3,000, but a judge released Mr. Foster instead.

Before the incident that killed Ms. Ambrocio, Mr. Foster broke into a 30-year-old woman’s apartment in the garment district earlier on Friday, smashed furniture and demanded money, leaving only after she gave him $15, the police said.

Mr. Foster, whose last known address was in Irvington, N.J., was separately charged with robbery and burglary in that incident. His lawyer at the Legal Aid Society declined to comment.

The consulate said it would host a memorial mass for Ms. Ambrocio on Monday at the St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street.

Ms. Ambrocio worked for 25 years at Bayonne Medical Center, where she administered chemotherapy to cancer patients. For the last 19 years, Dineen Olivera worked alongside her on the night shift.

Ms. Olivera recalled her colleague as a dedicated nurse who loved to travel, and who was highly active in her church and the Filipino community. She had been looking forward to returning to the Philippines to celebrate her father’s 90th birthday in September, but the country went into lockdown and Ms. Ambrocio’s father subsequently contracted Covid-19 and died, Ms. Olivera said.

During the pandemic, their 12-hour shifts often lasted much longer, but Ms. Ambrocio came to work dutifully, Ms. Olivera said. They cried as patients fought for their lives, but still found reasons to laugh. As intense as the workload became, Ms. Ambrocio never cursed, as nurses often do to relieve stress, Ms. Olivera said with a chuckle.

“She came to work everyday, and she fought it out like the rest of us did,” Ms. Olivera said. “She was very dedicated.”

She said it was ironic that her friend was killed by the kind of person she would have given her all to had he been her patient, and Ms. Olivera hoped that he would pay for his actions.

“She had so much more life to live, and for it to be cut short by what appears to be a career criminal, it’s just a tragedy, and it’s awful,” she said.