The 23-year-old was gunned down while responding to an armed robbery call at a 24-hour Walgreens on Communipaw Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard early Sunday morning.
The suspect, 27-year-old Lawrence Campbell, never tried to rob the Walgreens, authorities said. He allegedly grabbed a security guard’s gun and waited for police to arrive. He the apologized to a customer for his conduct and told her to watch the news because he was going to be famous, Mayor Steven Fulop said.
Minutes later when Santiago and his partner pulled into the parking lot, Campbell opened fire, killing the rookie cop before he even got the chance to get out of the car. Other officers returned fire, killing Campbell.
Santiago’s wake was held at the McLaughlin Funeral Home on Pavonia Avenue at 1 p.m.
“It’s difficult to really express what it’s like inside of there,” Fulop told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “But there’s a lot of love for the family.”
During the service, Fulop promoted Santiago, who had been on the job since December, to the rank of detective and awarded him the Medal of Honor. A letter from President Barack Obama was read expressing his condolences.
“My cousin died a hero and I can’t, I can’t understand it, but he’s in heaven right now with rest of the heroes and God bless him,” Santiago’s cousin Marissa Zdazinsky told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.
“It was really shocking because Melvin was really just a kid,” cousin Maria told 1010 WINS’ Derricke Dennis.
Maria, who spoke on behalf of Santiago’s family, said he died doing what he always wanted.
“Melvin, you know it was his dream to be a police officer,” she said tearfully. ” … Every kid in Jersey City wants to grow up to be a police officer, and he did it.”
In the long line of mourners stretching for nearly a full block, retired Jersey City firefighter Jack Farrington paid his respects to his fallen brother in blue.
“Once a fallen brother in blue goes down, we have to show respect by being here,” he said. “Only thing I could do was come here and show respect.”
“I’ve been personally encouraged by the outpouring of humanity that has come forward and the heartfelt feelings I have seen in the community,” former Jersey City police Chief Tom Comey told Sloan.
The memorial also included the United States Honor Flag, which was established after 9/11 and is used to pay tribute to heroes who die in the line of duty. Santiago’s mother and other family members were on hand Wednesday for a special ceremony when the flag arrived at Newark Airport.
Santiago’s funeral is scheduled for Friday morning at St. Aloysius Catholic Church.
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