A man who claimed he was “going to be famous” assaulted a security officer in a Walgreens store early Sunday, stole his gun, and then waited several minutes for New Jersey police to arrive before opening fire on them and killing one officer, authorities said.
Police returned fire, killing the suspect, Lawrence Campbell, 27, who prosecutors say was wanted in connection with an earlier killing in Jersey City, about six miles west of New York City.
The officer who was killed was 23-year-old Melvin Santiago, who was “very proud” to be a police officer, his stepfather said.
“Melvin was the best kid,” Alex McBride told The Associated Press, choking up. “I watched him graduate from high school. He joined every sport, everything. He never did no harm to nobody. And he was full of life.”
The chaos unfolded shortly after 4 a.m. in Jersey City, when police say Campbell walked into the store and pretended to be looking for greeting cards. A security guard pointed Campbell in the right direction.
After walking toward the cards, Campbell left the store but circled back and returned, wielding a knife, police said. He assaulted the security officer and seized his firearm, according to statements from Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and prosecutors.
“Campbell did not rob or attempt to rob the Walgreens, but proceeded to wait for the police department to arrive — approximately four minutes,” said an official account released by Fulop’s office. That account said that Campbell was caught on security cameras walking outside the Walgreens and talking to a witness, “at which time he apologized for his conduct in the Walgreens and told the witness to watch the news, he’s going to be famous.”
Two police cars responded, and Santiago was in the first car to arrive. Campbell approached Santiago’s car and shot the young officer in the head, officials said. Officers in another vehicle fired at Campbell, fatally wounding him.
“Today was a horrible day for Jersey City,” Fulop said. “It is a tragic situation when any officer is killed in the line of duty. Melvin was an officer who represented everything one would want to see in a police officer.”
Santiago had been a police officer in Jersey City for a year. Fulop told reporters that Santiago was a promising officer and had wanted to take on the city’s toughest areas, according to the Jersey Journal, which reported that Santiago had graduated from the police academy in December.
(Times staff writer Matt Pearce contributed to this report.)