Law enforcement and public officials in Lakewood turn to dealing with grief after the arrest of a suspect in connection with the shooting of one of their own.
The grieving fiancee of a New Jersey police officer slain execution style said that she knew he was helping with the manhunt -- from heaven.
While behind the wheel of his patrol car, Lakewood Officer Christopher Matlosz, 27, was fatally shot in the head Friday night, sparking a massive search for his killer. An informant's tip led authorities Sunday to arrest a suspected Bloods gang member.
"I knew Chris was helping his brothers from heaven find his killer the whole time and that's how I knew they would find him,' said Kelly Walsifer, in a new statement printed in the Asbury Park Press.
"It doesn't bring him back, but it gives me comfort to know he finished his job in spirit and can rest in peace," she wrote. "Chris was the best friend I could have and the memories of good times are endless."
His colleagues will hold a candlelight vigil in his honor later tonight.
Just over 38 hours after Matlosz was gunned down behind the wheel of his patrol car, a 15-member task force of State Police and U.S. Marshals officers surrounded an apartment where a tipster told police they could find the suspect, Jahmell W. Crockam.
Police and Lakewood officials called the loss of Officer Matlosz "devastating." "Our thoughts first and foremost are for the officer's family; hopefully this will let the healing begin," said Deputy Mayor Steven Langert. Matlosz's funeral will be held Thursday. A Viewing is set for Wednesday in Lakewood.
State Police call their unit TEAMS, for Tactical Emergency and Mission Specialists. They apparently moved in after Crockam was dropped off at a house in Camden. Police today thanked the police and law enforcement of neighboring towns and residents for their help. "The real heroes were citizens who came forward," a police official said during the news conference.
Crockam is due in court for a first appearance on Tuesday.
News 4 New York has also learned from sources that police now believe that the Bloods gang-- of which the alleged suspect in the murder of a Lakewood cop is believed to have belonged to--has ordered its members to attack law enforcement officers in more assassination attempts.
According to a source, leadership of the Bloods gang reacted to the dragnet that police initially put out to find Crockam following the Friday murder of officer Matlosz.
Authorities at the press conference would not confirm the gang angle and said it is still unknown whether Crockam knew his victim.
Police have been warned to be alert for other Bloods gang members attempting to retaliate for the manhunt by targeting lawmen for additional killings, sources told 4NewYork.
In response, the New Jersey State PBA issued a statement Sunday afternoon saying "We serve and protect the residents of New Jersey and there is no way that we will back down from that commitment. Don't threaten us, it only makes us more determined and committed to the communities we serve."
Lawmen from multiple agencies were involved in the hunt for Crockam, and the source indicates that the gang reacted to intense pressure its members got to turn on one of their own. Thus, lawmen believe, the order to kill more police.
On Saturday, police signed murder charges against Crockam, whom they accuse of killing Matlosz, who had driven up beside him and started to question him.
Lakewood Police earlier confirmed that there was a previous warrant out for Crockam's arrest from Dec. 29th, for possession of a rifle and hallow point bullets. Bail for Crockam has been set to $5 million, cash.
Matlosz, a 27-year-old from Toms River, was shot in the head and rushed to Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune where he was pronounced dead.
The officer was questioning Crockam when he pulled a handgun from his clothing and fired three bullets into the officer in what the county prosecutor called "a heinous, execution-style killing.''
Matlosz had just been transferred from the night shift a week ago and was engaged to be married next year.
His fiancée rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead less than an hour after the shooting.
"This is a terrible tragedy, and our hearts and prayers go out to Officer Matlosz's family, friends, fellow officers and the entire New Jersey law enforcement community,'' Gov. Chris Christie said Friday.
Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said Matlosz never saw it coming. She said the officer was conducting "a routine stop'' of the suspect, chatting with him in a non-confrontational way for a few minutes, leading authorities to believe the two may have been acquainted with each other before the shooting.
"This was an encounter that was between the officer and the person, not hostile,'' she said. "The individual stepped back and suddenly pulled out a handgun and shot the officer.''
While the suspect fled on foot, a neighbor called 911 at 4:07 p.m. to report an officer down. Matlosz was rushed to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where he died in the trauma unit at 4:54 p.m. He is survived by his mother and a brother.
The bounty for the arrest of Crockam quickly soared to $130,000 after the FBI gave $50,000. The State Policeman's Benevolent Association offered up a $40,000 reward, and Borough of Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliugh and the Avalon Police Department announced they contributed $1,000 to the reward fund for information leading to the arrest.
"Every year we lose police officers in this country and so many of their losses are just like this one: routine, nonviolent situations'' that suddenly turn deadly, Ford said. ``Now it hits home. This is the risk every officer takes when he put on the badge.''
Matlosz joined the department Aug. 14, 2006, and had just transferred to the evening shift after more than three years on the midnight shift, police Chief Robert Lawson said. He lived in nearby Manchester Township.
"Chris was one of our most popular officers,'' the chief said. ``You might say he was the best of us. He was very dedicated to his job. I have a lot of accolades about him from the public.''
Before joining the Lakewood Police Department, Matlosz worked as a police officer in Englishtown, a Monmouth County suburb, and as a Class 2 special police officer in Freehold Township, Manasquan and Long Branch on the Jersey shore.
He graduated from Howell Township High School and earned his degree in criminal justice from Brookdale College in 2004.
His death was the second shooting incident involving a Lakewood police officer in recent years.
In September 2009, another Lakewood police officer, Patrolman Jonathan Wilson, was critically wounded when he was shot in the face during a gun and drug raid that resulted in a gun battle.
Three other officers were shot but received lesser injuries. A suspect in that case faces attempted murder charges.