FDNY EMS Lt. Alison Russo-Elling served the city for 25 years. She was a World Trade Center first responder.
ASTORIA, Queens (WABC) -- Flags flew at half-staff across New York on Friday to honor FDNY EMS Lt. Alison Russo-Elling, a first responder on 9/11 killed in a brutal, unprovoked attack.
The FDNY also draped purple and black bunting on the exterior of EMS Station 49 where EMS Lieutenant Alison Russo-Elling served in Queens.
The black and purple bunting is already up outside Huntington Community First Aid Squad, where Lt Russo-Elling was also a member. She was to celebrate her 30th anniversary with the group in November.
She "was the mother hen of the station," grieving colleagues said after bunting was raised outside EMS Station 49. They said she was always looking out for everybody.
The deadly attack happened near the intersection of 20th Avenue and Steinway Street in Astoria around 2:15 p.m. on Thursday.
EMS Lieutenant Russo-Elling was stabbed to death in a random attack while on duty and standing outside of FDNY EMS Station 49.
"Members of EMS serve only to help and save other people's lives," Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said at a news conference. "To be attacked and killed in the course of helping others is both heartbreaking and enraging for our department in ways I cannot describe."
"She served the city for 25 years. She was a World Trade Center first responder. She was cited multiple times for her bravery and her life-saving work. And she was absolutely beloved on this job," Kavanagh said.
Russo-Elling was appointed to the FDNY as an EMT in 1998. She was then promoted to paramedic in 2002, and to lieutenant in 2016. She worked at multiple EMS stations across the city, including Station 20, Station 17, Station 16, Station 45, Queens Tactical Response, and Station 49, where she had been working for the last year.
The lieutenant also served as a rescue paramedic in her career and had training for performing pre-hospital emergency medical care.
"In one moment, just a short time away from her planned retirement, in one moment a lifetime of work came crashing to an end," Chief of EMS Lillian Bonsignore said.
Several co-workers noted the similarities to the 2017 death of EMT Yadira Arroyo in the Bronx.
"Lt. Russo is the second EMS woman, second mother, second EMS member to be murdered on these streets in the last five years," Bonsignore said.
The 61-year-old was a Long Island resident and is survived by her daughter, grandchildren, and her parents.
"I would just like to say, at this time can everyone keep my mother in your thoughts, pray for my family and remember her for the hero that she was," Danielle Fuoco, her daughter, said. "She did the best she could and overcame incredible obstacles and gave me the best life that she could."
"We lost one of our heroes, she provided a service to the city for over 24 years, her assailant has been apprehended and will be held accountable for his actions," New York City Mayor Eric Adams said.
There was an outpouring of emotion and sympathy outside the hospital.
When word got out that an EMS lieutenant had been attacked on the job and did not make it, FDNY EMS members gathered at the hospital to console one another and to mourn.
Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanaugh and an FDNY chaplain led a prayer circle in the area where ambulances pull into the hospital. There were a lot of tears and hugs.
The suspect identified as Peter Zisopoulos, 34, is charged with murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
Zisopoulos has no prior arrests and no connection to the victim. Law enforcement sources say he does have a history of mental illness.
"We have been told police had a prior interaction with Zisopoulos in 2018, when he was making hateful statements and threats," Mayor Adams said. "He was hospitalized at that time but not charged."
Zisopoulos fled after the attack and ran to 19-80 and 41st Street and barricaded himself inside his third-floor apartment.
Members of the hostage negotiating team and emergency service unit talked the suspect out of the building.
Police walked him across the street. He had not a trace of emotion on his face.
Neighbors describe him just that way, as a loner they would often see him walking, expressionless, around the block.
"He seemed to have a routine," neighbor Camilla Groth said. "Just walking around the block maybe a two or three block radius, always solitary, not on his phone, never talking to anyone and always by himself and just very self-contained. And I noticed that."
But now he's accused of incomprehensible violence. An unprovoked attack on a public servant.
Russo's body emerged from an emergency room Wednesday night surrounded by uniformed FDNY personnel.
The FDNY Firefighters and Fire Officers associations released a joint statement in response to Russo's death:
"The death of Alison Russo is a tragic reminder of the dangers faced by each and every member of the FDNY and uniformed services. Her senseless killing brings sorrow to every member of the FDNY. We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Department with bowed heads, and we will forever be here to support our FDNY family in this unspeakably difficult time. We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to Alison's family, loved ones, and colleagues."
Mayor Adams ordered flags on all city buildings to be lowered to half-staff Thursday night.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul also requested that flags be flown at half staff in honor of Lieutenant Russo from sunrise Friday until after her funeral.
The NY Police and Fire Widows' & Children's Benefit Fund, also known as Answer the Call, announced they will be providing Russo's family with $50,000 to help them financially.