Police arrest suspect in townhouse killing of NJ officer
Jahmell Crockam charged in "execution-style" killing of Lakewood, N.J. officer Christopher Matlosz on Friday
By Wayne Perry
The Associated Press
LAKEWOOD, N.J. — A frenzied manhunt for a suspected cop killer ended early Sunday morning in the bedroom of a Camden apartment, where a SWAT team arrested the 19-year-old suspect without incident.
Just over 38 hours after Lakewood Patrolman Christopher 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.
"We were able to get consent for entry, and it was over very quickly," said State Police Major Edward Cetnar. "He was upstairs in the bedroom."
Ten of the officers raced into the apartment at about 6:30 a.m. and quickly arrested Crockam, who did not put up any resistance. He did not seem surprised that authorities had tracked him down, Cetnar said.
"He was very quiet," Cetnar said.
Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said detectives got information that Crockam had fled to Camden and was hiding in a unit of the Crestbury Apartments on South 8th Street.
"This concludes a massive effort by law enforcement to apprehend a person we feel is responsible for the death of Officer Matlosz," Ford said. "The arrest of this suspect now allows the Lakewood Police Department and the family and friends of Officer Matlosz an opportunity to grieve, to give tribute to their colleague, friend and loved one."
State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said all law enforcement officers were affected by the killing.
"There's no joy in catching an accused cop killer, only the satisfaction of knowing that no one rested until the job was done," he said.
Crockam was charged Saturday with murder and weapons offenses.
The suspect had already been returned to Lakewood, booked in police headquarters, then transferred to the Ocean County Jail in Toms River. He is expected to be brought before a judge on Tuesday. A judge has already set bail for him at $5 million, with no opportunity to post 10 percent of that amount in cash to gain his release.
"It's a bittersweet time right now," said Lakewood Mayor Menashe P. Miller. "We are all thrilled to have removed this cold-blooded murderer off the street. But at the same time, there's a grieving fiancee, and a mother has to bury her son."
A wake for Matlosz will be held Wednesday at the Lakewood Funeral Home in neighboring Howell Township. A funeral Mass will be held Thursday at St. Mary of the Lake R.C. Church in Lakewood.
The prosecutor credited tips from the public with helping locate the suspect, calling them "the real heroes in this."
Crockam, whose street name is "Sav," — short for "Savage" — had fled to Camden, a poor city on the opposite side of the state, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. A dragnet encompassing at least three states and more than 100 officers had been searching for him since the shooting Friday at 4 p.m.
He was alone when he was arrested. Ford said the question of whether anyone might be prosecuted for helping him escape or hiding him is still being investigated.
Anthony Wieners, president of the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association, praised the officers who investigated the crime and helped with the arrest.
"I would like to thank all the members of law enforcement who tracked this cop killer down," he said. "Your tireless hours and pursuit of this ruthless killer makes all of society a little safer today. There is no place he could hide that we would not find him, and your efforts prove that true."
Addressing widespread rumors that street gangs might be planning attacks on police officers throughout New Jersey in retaliation for Crockam's arrest, he said: "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."
Ford said authorities are still trying to determine whether Crockam was a member of a street gang. His parents have declined to comment.
Authorities have said 27-year-old Matlosz drove up to Crockam as Crockam was walking and began speaking with him in a non-confrontational manner when the suspect suddenly stepped back, pulled out a handgun and shot the officer three times.
The suspect fled on foot, touching off a massive house-to-house search that involved armored vehicles, officers clad in body armor, teams of search dogs and helicopters.
Crockam had been a fugitive since December 29, when the prosecutor's office obtained an arrest warrant for him on charges of possessing an illegal rifle and hollow-point bullets. It was not immediately clear whether Matlosz knew of the arrest warrant or whether that was why he approached Crockam and began talking to him Friday afternoon.
Matlosz had been on the Lakewood police force for four years, and was engaged to be married next year.
His fiancee, Kelly Walsifer, issued a statement expressing her devastation over Matlosz's death, which came about four months after the death of his father.
"Chris was my best friend and soul mate. We did everything together. In the last 4 years, we both lived our life to the fullest," the statement said. "He was my life and my world. He made me laugh, he made others laugh, and we have been surrounded by the best of friends and co-workers throughout our time together."
The statement continued: "He just lost his father and now it brings me some peace to know that he is with him."
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