Lakewood, NJ – In the frigid air on a plaza outside police headquarters, a patrol car sat alone. On its windshield was an oversized photo of Patrolman Christopher Matlosz, who was cut down in a hail of bullets he never had a chance of answering or avoiding.
Bouquets of roses and chrysanthemums adorned the roof, under red and blue lights. On the trunk sat two votive candles, one of which had blown out in the subfreezing wind.
The car served as the focal point of a candlelight vigil Monday night for the 27-year-old Matlosz, who police say was shot three times Friday by a teenager he had started to question.
The slain officer’s fiancee, Kelly Walsifer, and his mother, Jane Coliao, wept on a platform overlooking the plaza as fellow officers gave tribute to him, and strangers cried along with them.
“Chris had that million-dollar smile that automatically made you a friend of his,” said Englishtown police Officer Trevor Martinson, a close friend of Matlosz from his days with that department. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet. We loved him like a brother.”
Hundreds of people packed the plaza, lighting candles and holding them aloft as bagpipes wailed “Amazing Grace.” Ringing the plaza were the words “Happy Holidays,” spelled out in big red letters.
The suspect, 19-year-old Jahmell W. Crockam, was to make an initial court appearance on Tuesday in state Superior Court, charged with murder and weapons offenses.
Crockam was arrested Sunday morning in Camden, about 60 miles from the crime scene. He was in police custody and couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Monday night was all about Matlosz, who had served on the police force for four years and was to be married next year. On the dashboard of the patrol car was a photo of him and his fiancee, beaming as she showed off the engagement ring Matlosz had given her.
Matlosz’s colleague and friend Elsynia Seaman glowed with praise for him.
“He was a really great guy, a unique, genuine person, and it’s hard to find those nowadays,” said Seaman, who served with Matlosz on the Howell Township First Aid Squad and knew him for years before that. “He could make anybody laugh.”
Seaman recalled how selfless Matlosz was about teaching her the ropes on the first aid squad, the ins and outs of the ambulance and all the equipment that went with it, the proper procedure to be followed for a particular situation.
Her father, Ron Seaman, who also served on the first aid squad with Matlosz, said the death “still hasn’t sunk in.”
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “If he had a dollar on him and you were cold, he’d give you the dollar and the shirt off his back. He was that kind of guy.
“He was a true friend,” Seaman said. “I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
Police Deputy Chief Charles Smith said the last few days have “been extraordinarily hard for us.”
“We lost a brother in blue,” he said. “This young officer was murdered in a manner which was the equivalent of an execution. I don’t believe he ever saw what was coming. He was killed by a young assassin with no conscience.”
Many of those who had gathered early were seething with anger over the officer’s killing and were ready to believe the guilt of the teenager charged with it.
“What this guy did to that poor officer should be done to him,” said Patricia Polock, of Toms River, who has several relatives who are police officers. “These guys put their lives on the line and do everything for us.”
Scott DeFilippo, of Toms River, bemoaned the fact that New Jersey has done away with capital punishment.
“They did away with the death penalty, but they should bring it back for this clown,” he said.
Glenn Wilson, pastor of the Restoration Family Worship Center, in neighboring Howell Township, said parents need to do a better job of raising their children.
“As long as we have absentee fathers and preoccupied mothers, we will continue to produce children who are heartless,” he said.
Authorities said Matlosz was on patrol Friday afternoon when he came upon Crockam on a residential street in an area where there had been several drive-by shootings. They said the two spoke to each other for a while in a non-confrontational manner and Crockam suddenly pulled a gun out of his baggy clothing and fired three shots into the officer, who slumped behind the wheel of his cruiser, his gun still in its holster.
Crockam was wanted for possession of an illegal rifle and hollow-point bullets from a December incident, but it remained unclear whether the officer knew that when he approached him, authorities said.