CHELSEA — Brandon Romero was the kind of person who put others before himself, his friends and relatives said. So it came as no surprise when Romero gave up his life to save his cousin when her ex-boyfriend threatened her with a gun.
"I don't know if there's a more heroic act in life than what he did for me," said his cousin, Jamie Cruz between tears. "But he gave his life so I could keep mine."
A lifelong Fulton Houses resident, Romero led a clean life in a place rife with temptation. While others indulged in drugs and gangs, the lifelong Fulton Houses resident never drank or smoke, and loved working out, friends and family said.
His family hopes that children growing up in the Chelsea NYCHA development are inspired to follow his example now that West 19th Street at Ninth Avenue was officially renamed Brandon Romero Way on Tuesday in his memory.
The renaming came on what would have been Romero's 23rd birthday, and he grew up on West 19th Street. More than 100 friends, family members and neighbors attended, all hailing him as a hero not just on that day, but in the way that he lived his life.
"He's considered a member of Fulton, but he reached all over the city," Cruz said. "He was a true believer in 'do unto others.'"
On Dec. 12, 2011, Romero accompanied Cruz to pick up her belongings from an ex-boyfriend, Kenneth Waldron, 29, at his apartment at 413 W. 16th St.
According to police, Waldron pulled out a gun and Romero was shot trying to stop him, giving Cruz a chance to run to safety. Waldron then shot and killed himself immediately afterward.
Romero's family spent the past few years trying to convince the city to rename the intersection for him. The family gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a petition, and the plan won unanimous support from Community Board 4 in 2012.
"Brandon's act was an act of bravery," City Councilman Corey Johnson said at the dedication ceremony. "That's incredibly beautiful and special."
Before his death, Romero held two jobs, one at Cinnabon and another at Equinox gym, to support his family, relatives said. He was also an active member of World Changes Church and donated to several charities, they said.
Romero's brothers, Max and Frank, hope to start a church youth group in his name. The pair spearheaded the effort to rename the street. They hope both efforts will encourage kids — from Fulton Houses and across the city — to live as their brother did.
"If a person decides to take a wrong turn in life, I hope he sees the sign and decides not to," Frank Romero said.