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Maria Ambrocio Remembered As A 'Beloved, Cherished' Nurse Who 'Devoted Her Life To Helping Others'

IRVINGTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- There was an emotional tribute Monday to a beloved nurse.

A memorial was held for Maria Ambrocio. She was killed after being knocked to the ground by an alleged mugger in Times Square.

Now we're hearing from the suspect's family. In an exclusive interview, they told CBS2's Kiran Dhillon that he suffers from mental illness, and needs help desperately.

"I thought it can't be Jermaine. I spoke to him a week ago," said Orrett Montague. "I'm just sad something like this happened."

In an exclusive interview with CBS2 News, Montague recounted the horror he felt when he learned his stepson, 26-year-old Jermaine Foster, had been charged with murder in connection to the death of Ambrocio.

"I'm sure he's off his medication if something like this happened," Montague said. "Pushing someone means he's off his medication."

Ambrocio, 58, a longtime oncology nurse at Bayonne Medical Center, was in Times Square Friday when police say Foster plowed into her outside a pizzeria. It's alleged he was running after stealing another woman's cell phone. Ambrocio fell and cracked her skull on the pavement. She later died in the hospital. Foster was arrested a short time later.

Monday, there was a memorial Mass in midtown, organized by the Philippine consulate general in New York, was held in Ambrocio's honor.

When it was over, Consul General Elmer Cato comforted the two friends that were with Ambrocio when she pushed. The women have been unable to process their grief.

"Emotions are deep, so I can not describe it, but it hurts my heart, it hurts me, so much it hurts me," said Emelia Cruz.

"It really broke me, and now every morning, I don't know how to really take it, because it hurts so much," said Norma Lardizabal.

Ambrocio's family and friends say she was married with four stepchildren and several grandkids. A committed member of her church and the Filipino community, she was passionate about her patients, traveling, music and her faith.

"She is a very good person. Respectable, religious, kind and a very loving person," Cruz said.

As for Foster, sources say he also was involved in a groping incident in September in which he was released on own recognizance, and before Friday's cell phone snatching, they allege he broke into a woman's apartment near Times Square.

The victim in the home invasion was too scared to speak on camera but told us through a statement "I let him in thinking he was a food delivery worker. He spent 20 mins breaking and throwing things while calling himself an African king. I called the police but he left with $15 before officers arrived."

Foster's family says he has been in an out or psychiatric hospitals, suffering from a mental illness, since he was a teenager.

The situation was made worse when his father, who was his caretaker, died of COVID.

Montague acknowledges the city provided Foster with social services, but says it appears he slipped through the cracks.

Foster's family says he is not a violent person and has no prior record beyond this and what happened last month. They want more resources to help those with mental illness.

"When he's on his meds, he can work. But I don't know when he's on or off, that's where the problem is caused," Montague said. "Sometimes he think he's better and doesn't take his meds."

For now his stepfather is offering his heartfelt condolences to Maria Ambrocio's loved ones.

"Our deepest condolences to the family of Maria Ambrocio. The killing of Maria Ambrocio near Times Square highlights one of our city's greatest public safety challenges, the proliferation of people with untreated mental illness and drug addictions on our streets committing crimes without an effective strategy to address them.  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. Let her death not be in vain," said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance.

Ambrocio's loved ones call her death senseless.

The CEO of CarePoint Health, Dr. Achintya Moulick, released the following statement about Ambrocio:

We are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved colleague Maria Ambrocio, a cherished member of our CarePoint Health family.  She spent 25 years as an oncology nurse in Bayonne Medical Center, and her untimely death is a profound loss to us all, especially those whose lives she touched each day.

Maria devoted her life to helping others, caring for patients, and serving the community. She was caring, compassionate and outgoing. She loved to take pictures and spend time with friends and family. At work, she was generous and always promoted teamwork and positivity. Maria always appreciated those she worked with and was grateful for the comradery and teamwork. Another nurse who worked with Maria remembered her focus on patients: "Spend less time complaining and more time working, we need to take care of the patients." That is truly who Maria was, "patient care first" was her motto.

We are struggling to reconcile how this incredible nurse is suddenly no longer with us. Maria gave so much of her life to her community and patients, including her incredible sacrifices during the pandemic.  Her life and commitment to patients and community inspire us. We are committed to ensuring her example and legacy drive us to improve patient care in the communities we serve.

Those who knew her described Maria's deep spiritual connection; this gave peace and reassurance to many in the CarePoint Health family last night. We will miss her very much. Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to the Ambrocio family. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they go through this difficult time.

CarePoint Health is providing grief counseling to our employees to help cope with this terrible loss.

CBS2's Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.

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