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Park named for Astoria hero

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The city officially opened a small memorial park near the border of Astoria and East Elmhurst last week that has been named in honor of an Astoria emergency medical technician who died on duty during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D−Astoria), who has advocated for the creation of the park for six years, joined the family of Carlos Lillo at a former construction storage site at 76th Street and 21st Avenue in East Elmhurst near the Astoria border that has been transformed into a park and named after the EMT.

“This is a day that has been long in coming,” Gianaris said. “He was a great man who sacrificed his life for others. This is more than a monument to Carlos, but also a monument to the community.”

Lillo, who had moved to the the U.S. mainland at age 14 from Puerto Rico, was raised near 23rd Street and Broadway in Astoria, said Haydee Lillo, Carlos’ widow. Her husband had been working as a paramedic at Astoria’s Mt. Sinai Hospital at the time of the attacks.

Gianaris said Haydee Lillo was leaving the World Trade Center, where she worked for the Port Authority, as her husband was entering the building to save lives. Haydee Lillo said her husband had told her years ago that he thought the site that would eventually bear his name would be a good place for a community park.

“We had both said, ‘Who would want to look out their window at this dump site?’ ” she said. “We said, ‘This site should be a park with benches and trees.’ I believe even after our loved ones are gone, they still send us messages.”

Carlos Lillo Memorial Park not only includes greenery and benches, but also chess tables and a plaque telling the EMT’s story, city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said.

The Lillos were living in Babylon, L.I., at the time of the terrorist attacks. But Haydee Lillo said the couple had planned to buy an apartment in Astoria at some point in the future.

Ilia Rodriguez, Carlos Lillo’s mother, said the park would remind neighborhood residents of her son’s sacrifice.

“Generation after generation will come here and know my son’s history,” she said. “The loss of a son is a big pain that never goes away. But he was so good, so I know he’s in a good place.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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