CHELSEA — Brandon Romero was the kind of person who would put himself before others, so friends and family were not surprised when he put his life on the line to protect his cousin from an angry ex-boyfriend.
Now, people who knew and loved him are circulating a petition to commemorate Romero's life and bravery, hoping to get the city to name the corner of West 19th Street and Ninth Avenue — where he grew up — after him.
Romero, 20, was tragically shot and killed on Dec. 12, 2011 when he accompanied his cousin, Jamie Cruz, to retrieve belongings from her ex-boyfriend, Kenneth Waldron, 29, at Waldron's apartment in the Fulton Houses at 413 W. 16th St.
After a heated exchange, relatives said, Waldron pulled out a gun and Romero was shot trying to stop him, allowing Cruz time to escape safely. Waldron shot and killed himself immediately afterward.
"Brandon was a hero because he saved my sister's life," said Jamie's Cruz's sister, Brenda. "He chose to put himself in front of a gun. He allowed my sister to escape unharmed."
All three involved in the exchange grew up in the Fulton Houses, where the tragedy has struck a chord with residents who knew Romero and his family. At a Community Board 4 meeting Wednesday night, dozens of friends, family and neighbors came to support the petition, which is being organized by Romero's older brothers, Frank, 25, and Maxwell, 23.
"My brother did more than what he was told. He did what he felt was right," a tearful Frank Romero told the board. "I feel that he should be recognized."
The brothers said they hoped having Brandon's name hanging above the street where Fulton Houses residents work and play will inspire others to live as he did.
Romero, a huge fitness buff, never smoked or drank, and enjoyed running in Central Park, his family said. Friends who struggled with addiction said he helped them quit drugs or alcohol.
He held down two jobs to support his family: one at Cinnabon, the other at a nearby Equinox gym. He would often bring back dozens of cinnamon buns home for his family and friends to enjoy.
"If you want to go with his full-time job, it was being a philanthropist," Maxwell Romero said.
Brandon Romero was an active member of World Changers Church, and was often involved in their youth outreach programs.
"Every week when we went to church, he always made sure I made it to my doorway safely," said church member Karen Lindstrom. "He always had the best in mind for everyone. I think he was quite the inspirational young man."
Romero's family said there was a huge turnout — nearly 1,000 people — at his funeral in December. The petition, started on Dec. 14, gained roughly 1,600 signatures within 24 hours. An online petition had more than 2,000 signatures Friday morning, with yet more signatures on a paper version.
Maxwell Romero said that he'd like to see more recognition for his slain brother, including a Certificate of Bravery from the city. The family is also interested in establishing anti-gun and domestic violence initiatives to commemorate Romero.
"The sky's the limit for what I can do in my brother's name," Maxwell Romero said.
The petition to name the corner of West 19th Street and Ninth Avenue after Brandon Romero can be found here. The proposal will be taken up by Community Board 4's Transportation Planning Committee at their meeting in February.