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Mayor: Jersey City Cop Melvin Santiago Killed In Walgreens Ambush

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A man at a Jersey City Walgreens opened fire on police Sunday morning, killing a rookie cop who was responding to a call while he was still sitting in his squad car, officials said.

Officer Melvin Santiago, 23, was fatally shot in the head responding to a report of an armed robbery at the 24-hour drugstore on Communipaw Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard just after 4 a.m., Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop told reporters.

Melvin Santiago
Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago was killed in the line of duty July 13, 2014. (Credit: Jersey City Police Department)

Lawrence Campbell, 27, of Jersey City, went into the Walgreens with no intention of robbing the store, Fulop said.

As CBS 2's Matt Kozar reported, Campbell beat up an armed guard and stole his gun.

He then waited outside for police arrive. While he was waiting, he apologized to a customer for his conduct and told her to watch the news because he was going to be famous, Fulop said.

"Surveillance cameras showed Campbell walked outside and spoke to a witness, at which time he apologized for his conduct in Walgreens and then subsequently told the witness to watch the news later today because he was going to be famous," Fulop said.

About four minutes later, Santiago and his partner pulled into the parking lot when the gunman fired from close range, Fulop said. Cambpell unleashed three more shots at a second police car.

Officers then shot Campbell multiple times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fulop said Campbell has been linked to a prior Jersey City homicide.

Cops: Jersey City Police Officer Shot Dead During Armed Robbery

Santiago was pronounced dead at Jersey City Medical Center, where other officers were gathering Sunday morning, CBS 2's Janelle Burrell reported.

The officer had been on the job since December, Fulop said.

"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. "Aggressive about learning. ... He just really loved being a police officer, with the brightest future possible. So it's with a heavy heart that we're here today, to say the least."

Cops: Jersey City Police Officer Shot Dead During Armed Robbery

There was a massive police response to the Walgreens. Multiple SWAT teams, from the Hudson County Sheriff's Office and the Jersey City Police Department, swept the building to ensure there were no additional suspects there, CBS 2's Janelle Burrell reported.

Witnesses described what followed the shooting as a hostage situation inside the pharmacy. They said there were a number of employees and customers inside the building at the time. They were later ushered out of the building by armed guards and SWAT team member, witnesses said.

Melvin Santiago Salute
Police officers salute outside Jersey City Medical Center following the on-duty death of Officer Melvin Santiago. (Credit: Janelle Burrelle/CBS 2)

A man who lives across the street from the drugstore told 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck he heard eight to 10 shots fired.

"The gunman came out as police arrived," he said. "The gunman came out of the store and shot police, I believe."

As CBS 2's Steve Langford reported, Santiago's death left friends and family stunned.

"They just took a big part of my heart," his father said, 'He was so full of like. [He could] make you laugh. You had to laugh when you saw Melvin. Something about his smile."

"My son was 23-years-old and he was a good boy. He didn't deserve to die. He didn't deserve to get a bullet in the head for no reason."

The last murder of a Jersey City police officer took place on July 16, 2009. Officer Marc DiNardo was shot during a stakeout. Four other officers were shot in that incident, two suspects were killed.

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