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Julio Cortez | AP
The Jersey City Police Department cruiser is seen with bullet holes in the windshield at the scene where an officer was shot and killed while responding to a call at a 24-hour pharmacy early Sunday.

Mayor: Cop killer lay in wait for police to arrive

AP
This photo provided by the Jersey City Mayor's office shows slain officer Melvin Santiago.
Julio Cortez | AP
The body of the suspect remained on the ground for about five hours.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – A gunman who killed a rookie officer responding to a report of an armed robbery call early Sunday never tried to rob the drugstore and instead lay in wait for police, telling a witness to watch the news because he was “going to be famous,” authorities said.

Lawrence Campbell, 27, shot Officer Melvin Santiago in the head shortly after he and his partner arrived at the 24-hour Walgreens at around 4 a.m., Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said. Other officers returned fire at Campbell, killing him.

Campbell, of Jersey City, was one of three suspects wanted by police for a prior homicide, Fulop said.

Fulop said Campbell walked into Walgreens and asked for directions to the greeting card aisle. He was carrying a knife, assaulted an armed security guard at the store and snatched his gun, Fulop said. He left the store and waited for police to arrive before shooting Santiago with what police believe was the security guard’s gun.

“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.

“By all accounts, he was enthusiastic, motivated, wanted to be in the west district because he was a true police officer and wanted to be a part of that culture in every single way,” Fulop said. “He just really loved being a police officer.”

Fulop was there when Santiago’s body arrived at the hospital. As Santiago’s mother identified the body, Fulop said, she “just keep repeating the badge number and saying that it’s not possible.”

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.

“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 then 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. The store has round-the-clock armed security, Marshall noted.

The Jersey City Police Benevolent Association said in a statement that their hearts were heavy over Santiago’s death.

“Patrolman Santiago knew the risks associated with this job, yet he put himself in front of danger in order to keep Jersey City safe,” the association said. “Words cannot adequately express our feelings about this senseless tragedy.”

Associated Press writers Julio Cortez in Jersey City and Ashley Thomas in Philadelphia contributed to this story.

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