New York Times Portraits of Grief

Yamel Merino

Yamel Merino had a soft, sweet voice and a gentle smile, yet she could be as strong as a bull. She had to lift heavy patients onto gurneys in her job as an emergency medical technician. She knew her job was dangerous. Every night, she prayed for God to protect her 8-year-old son, whom she was raising on her own.

She felt most fulfilled when she was helping people. She was one of the first people to reach the trade center complex before the first building collapsed.

The 24-year-old mother lived with her son in Yonkers. Her big goal was to return to school to become a nurse. She had struggled mightily to get where she was. She didn't finish high school, though she eventually got her general equivalency diploma. She had worked at Metrocare, an ambulance company, for more than three years. A close friend recalls she had been nervous about whether she would get the job. She need not have worried. "They loved her," said the friend, Maureen Niciu.