• BREAKING NEWS Shelter in place lifted after prisoner captured

Thousands attend funeral for slain NJ officer

January 21, 2011 11:40:08 AM PST
The church bell tolled its mournful sound and a drum corps tapped out a doleful beat outside the church where friends and relatives of a police officer who was shot to death were gathering to attend his funeral Thursday morning.

Then another shock started spreading among those in attendance: an e-mail on their Blackberrys and cell phones announcing that the teenager charged with murdering Lakewood Patrolman Christopher Matlosz had just been charged in another murder three months earlier.

Jahmell Crockam, 19, of Lakewood already faces murder and weapons charges in the shooting death Friday of Matlosz. Authorities said Thursday that Crockam and another man were charged with the Oct. 15 shooting death of Justin Williams, whose body was found dumped on a street corner.

Information leading to the new murder charge was developed as police investigated the slaying of the officer.

Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said Crockam and another man accompanied Williams to a location Oct. 15, where Williams was shot to death. Prosecutors did not specify which defendant they believe pulled the trigger, but said both men are legally responsible for the killing, and both were charged with murder. They are being held at the Ocean County Jail in Toms River, and will make an initial court appearance on the new charge Friday.

More than 5,000 police officers were expected to attend the funeral Mass at St. Mary of the Lake Roman Catholic Church, but twice as many showed up, lining the streets leading to the church.

Among the delegation were officers from Philadelphia, Newark, New York City and Washington, D.C. Police departments from all 50 states and foreign countries including Canada and the Bahamas had inquired about sending their officers, said Jim Ryan, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association.

During the emotion-choked ceremony, Matlosz's fiancee, Kelly Walsifer, told of her last days with him and the close bond they shared.

"The minute I found out a Lakewood officer was shot, I had a warmth come over me and Chris whispered in my ear and said, 'Everything's going to be OK. You'll be OK and I will love you forever."' This was before she knew he was the one who had been shot.

"That was the kind of connection we shared," Walsifer said. "He was my best friend, my world, my life. We were close to perfect. I never could have imagined living without him. I question God every day: Why he would take Chris away from me?"

Walsifer said she would hug Matlosz every night before he left for work, telling him, "always safe, extra safe."

"I know now he will always be always safe, extra safe," she said.

Stephen Gibson, a civilian employee of the New Jersey State Police who was friends with Matlosz for 12 years, recalled him as "my rock, my go-to person."

"Chris Matlosz was a hero," Gibson said. "On that cold January evening, Chris paid the ultimate price. Christopher Anthony Matlosz, our friend and brother, was taken from us far too early, doing what he loved to do: being a police officer."

Matlosz, 27, was on patrol Friday in a residential neighborhood in Lakewood that had been the scene of several drive-by shootings. He pulled his police cruiser up to a person on the sidewalk and began talking to him in a nonconfrontational manner, authorities said. Suddenly, the pedestrian pulled a handgun out of his baggy clothing and opened fire, shooting the officer three times.

Matlosz slumped behind the wheel, mortally wounded, as the suspect ran away.

On Sunday, police arrested Crockam, who was hiding in an apartment in Camden, about 60 miles from the crime scene. He is charged with murder and weapons offenses, and is being held on $5 million bail. His public defender says Crockam plans to plead innocent at his arraignment, which has not been scheduled.

Jeff Hanlon, who served with Matlosz on the Englishtown Police department before Matlosz joined the Lakewood force four years ago, spoke angrily of the suspect, calling him "a coward" too scared to confront the officer in a fair fight.

"He knew he had no chance if Chris stood up in his boots," Hanlon said.

Hanlon said Matlosz is now pounding a different type of beat.

"He only moved his patrol from the earth to the sky," he said.


Load Comments