A Promise Kept on 9/11

Carlos Lillo and his wife Haydee Cecilia Icaza-Lillo smile at their wedding in this close-up photo of their faces.
Carlos Lillo and his wife Haydee Cecilia Icaza-Lillo at their wedding. Gift of Haydee C. Icaza-Lillo in memory of her late husband, Carlos R. Lillo

From the time he was a young boy growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Carlos R. Lillo enjoyed caring for others. He would often bandage the wings of injured birds and even constructed a handmade cast for a wounded dog. After Lillo emigrated with his family to New York as a teenager, he studied to become a paramedic for the New York City Fire Department. This profession suited his kind, nurturing personality perfectly.

“It was always in him that he wanted to help someone, that he wanted to be in that field,” recalled his wife Haydee Cecilia Icaza-Lillo. “He said to me that he always wanted to help someone and save someone’s life.”

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lillo was on duty, and helped to rescue scores of wounded evacuees at the World Trade Center. Reflecting on that day, FDNY paramedic Robert Abril remembered seeing tears in Lillo’s eyes as he feared for the safety of his wife who worked on the 64th floor of the North Tower.

After they married in 2000, Icaza-Lillo, who survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, asked her husband to promise that if she were in danger again, he would not endanger himself to rescue her. As a survivor, she believed she would make it out alive and find her way back to him. On Sept. 11, Icaza-Lillo escaped the World Trade Center with minor injuries. Her husband kept his promise but was tragically caught in the collapse of the South Tower while aiding other victims of the attacks. He was one of two New York City Fire Department paramedics killed on 9/11.

Carlos R. Lillo’s sparring gloves are now on view in the Memorial Exhibition at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Photo by Michael Hnatov.Icaza-Lillo still regards her husband as her best friend. After a long day at work, the pair would play basketball outside and she would gently tease him for not sinking as many hoops as she could. Although he was outmatched by his wife in basketball, Lillo was passionate about sports. He was captain of his high school gymnastics team and owned every type of athletic equipment: bowling balls, baseball bats, skis, golf clubs, basketballs, paddleballs and more. In honor of his love of sports, Lillo’s sparring gloves that he used when boxing are now on view in the Memorial Exhibition at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. 

By 9/11 Memorial Staff


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