JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Family and friends say Melvin Santiago had dreamed of being a police officer since he was a boy, seeking to follow in the footsteps of his uncle.
When Santiago accomplished his dream last December and joined the Jersey City force as a rookie officer, he asked to serve in what the city's public safety director describes as its "toughest district." Seven months after he graduated from the police academy, the 23-year-old was dead after a gunman shot him in the head.
Santiago died early Sunday, shortly after he and other officers responded to a report of an armed robbery at a 24-hour drugstore.
The gunman, 27-year-old city resident Lawrence Campbell, never tried to rob the store, Fulop said. Instead, he approached a witness and apologized for his conduct inside the store, then said to watch the news later because he was "going to be famous."
Campbell then waited for officers to arrive and shot Santiago with what police believe was the guard's weapon.
Other officers returned fire at Campbell, killing him.
Fulop said Campbell was one of three suspects wanted by police for a prior homicide.
Police are also searching for another man who they believe was involved in the previous homicide with Campbell, Fulop said. They have been aggressively seeking Daniel Wilson for the last three days, Fulop said.
"Melvin was an officer who represented everything one would want to see in a police officer," Fulop said. "I know the entire city's thoughts and prayers are with the Santiago family during this difficult time and we mourn together."
Santiago's longtime friend, Gary Nahrwold, said it was about a decade ago that his pal told him he wanted to become a police officer.
Nahrwold, 24, also hopes to join the force and said he won't be discouraged by Santiago's slaying. If he joins a police department, he will serve in Melvin's memory and the memory of others killed in the line of duty.
"It just gives me more purpose to do it," he said. "I'm not going to be deterred by some senseless crimes."