LAKEWOOD, N.J. (CBS 2/ AP) – A Lakewood police officer was shot to death in the line of duty during an incident on August Drive on Friday afternoon.
Authorities have identified the officer as Patrolman Christopher Matlosz. He was taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, where he later died.
On Friday night there was shock, fear and determination to find a cop killer following the execution-style killing, reports CBS 2′s Dave Carlin.
“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. “While the facts are still being gathered, we support the Lakewood Police and Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office in their work to bring swift justice to whomever is responsible.”
Police said the 27-year-old officer was alone in his patrol car conducting a routine stop on August Drive near Joe Parker Boulevard and did not even get out of his car when questioning the man who killed him.
“Just a question and answer type of thing that the individual stepped back at one point and suddenly pulled out a handgun, a weapon and shot the officer three times,” Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said.
Officer Matlosz had no time to get his own gun out of the holster.
As he was dying in the driver’s seat he was in communication with dispatch. Help arrived quickly but not quickly enough and he was pronounced dead at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
“Officer Matlosz was engaged to be married. The fiancée was at the hospital,” Lynch Ford said. “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. Now it hits home. This is the risk every officer takes when he put on the badge.”
Officers from local and state police were swarming the neighborhood and several helicopters were swooping low over homes and trees in the area. State Attorney General Paula Dow promised the killer would be caught.
“I am deeply saddened to learn about the fatal shooting of Lakewood police Officer Chris Matlosz, who lost his life in the line of duty this evening,” Dow said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Rest assured, the suspect responsible for this horrific act will be apprehended and brought to justice.”
The suspect is described as black male in his early 20s with a stocky build. He wore a black hoodie that covered his head, but witnesses said they could see puffy cheeks and sunken eyes. He wore dark colored pants, baggy and worn low so grey boxer shorts were visible.
Police believe he fled on foot into nearby woods and said the gun has not been recovered. Cops spent Friday night searching for surveillance camera video, and to see if the officer’s dashboard camera was on and recording.
It was a nervous night for neighbors in the area.
“Nothing I can do but look out the door and see those flashing lights. Thank God they are there,” resident Chris Whalen said.
The hunt is massive and the reward substantial. The New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association put up a $40,000 reward to help get someone to come forward with info to catch the killer.
Officer Matosz joined the Lakewood Police Department is August 2006, working midnight shifts until one week ago when he started evening patrols.
“Chris was one of our most popular officers. He was proactive. You might say he was the best of us,” Lakewood Police Chief Robert Lawson said.
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.