JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — A man who fatally shot a rookie officer responding to a report of an armed robbery call early Sunday (see related story) never tried to rob the drugstore and instead lay in wait for police to arrive, telling a witness to watch the news because he was “going to be famous,” authorities said.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop identified the gunman as 27-year-old Lawrence Campbell of Jersey City and said he had been wanted by police for a prior homicide.
Campbell shot 23-year-old Officer Melvin Santiago in the head shortly after he and his partner arrived at a 24-hour Walgreens. Officers returned fire at Campbell, killing him.
Fulop said Campbell arrived at the drugstore and asked for directions to the greeting card aisle. He was carrying a knife and snatched a gun away from the armed security guard there.
“Today was a horrible day for Jersey City,” Fulop said.
Dozens of officers stood single file at the entrance of the hospital and saluted as Santiago’s flag-draped body was carried into an ambulance. A handful of younger officers consoled one another as they walked away. Santiago graduated from the police academy in December, according to a spokeswoman for Fulop.
Santiago is the first Jersey City officer killed in the line of duty since Detective Marc DiNardo died in July 2009 during a raid on an apartment while searching for suspects in a robbery.
The mayor says an armed security guard at the store told authorities that Campbell struck him and took his weapon. Fulop says police believe that weapon was used in the shooting. The guard was taken to a hospital.
“It is a tragic situation when any officer is killed in the line of duty,” Fulop said. “Melvin was an officer who represented everything one would want to see in a police officer. I know the entire city’s thoughts and prayers are with the Santiago family during this difficult time and we mourn together.”
Jean Belviso, who has been delivering newspapers for 10 years, was driving through the Walgreens parking lot when she said saw a man wearing burgundy sweatpants and a baseball cap walk out of the store. A police cruiser pulled up in front of Walgreens, and the suspect began shooting, the 61-year-old Belviso said.
“We thought he was running, coming toward us,” said Belviso, who was riding along with a friend. “He kept on shooting.”
Bullets flew through the cruiser’s windshield, 13 in all. The suspect was shot multiple times, and officers slapped handcuffs on him, Belviso said.
Campbell’s body remained on the ground next to the bullet-riddled cruiser for more than five hours after the shooting before it was placed in a coroner’s van and taken away.
Markeisha Marshall, a spokeswoman for Walgreens, said the company was “deeply regretful” over the officer’s death and extended its sympathies to his family and friends.
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