LAKEWOOD, N.J. – Police signed murder charges Saturday against a 19-year-old man they accuse of fatally shooting a New Jersey police officer who had driven up beside him and started to question him.
A massive manhunt is under way for Jahmell W. Crockam, who is charged with killing Lakewood Patrolman Christopher Matlosz on Friday. Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said Crockam is known by the street name "Sav" — short for "Savage."
A Superior Court Judge set bail for Crockam at $5 million cash once he is arrested.
Authorities say the 27-year-old Matlosz drove up to Crockam as Crockam was walking and began speaking with him in a nonconfrontational manner when the suspect suddenly stepped back, pulled out a handgun and shot the officer three times.
More than 100 local, county, state and federal officers completed a house-to-house search overnight in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, at times barging into homes at gunpoint and ordering inhabitants to get on the floor.
Ford warned the public that Crockam is considered armed and dangerous.
"We have to assume he's armed and he's not disinclined to use that fatal, lethal weapon if he feels threatened," she said.
A reward for the suspect's capture is now up to $133,000. He was not in custody as of Saturday night.
A massive show of force was on display at Lakewood police headquarters, including a black armored vehicle similar to those used in war zones. Most officers were awash in body armor, clutching automatic weapons, police dogs at their side.
Even before the officer's shooting, Crockam was being sought on illegal weapons charges. On Dec. 29, the prosecutor's office obtained an arrest warrant for him on charges of possessing an illegal rifle and hollow-point bullets.
Authorities would not say what type of ammunition was used in the officer's killing.
The weapon used has not yet been recovered, Ford said.
A person who answered the telephone at Crockam's parents' house in Lakewood hung up when a reporter called Saturday afternoon seeking comment.
Officers were struggling with their emotions, grieving for their slain colleague while trying to remain focused on the task of catching his killer. Several officers at police headquarters worked deep into the night, their eyes red from crying, even as they coordinated strategy.
"Everyone is remaining professional," said Capt. Thomas Hayes of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. "This really is an intense investigation."
Lakewood police Chief Robert Lawson said his officers are grieving while still doing their jobs, acknowledging the gut-wrenching nature of their task.
"It's devastating," he said. "We are a law enforcement family. This is like someone in your family being killed. All the officers are feeling it very deeply."
A Facebook tribute page created to honor Matlosz had more than 1,000 followers by early Saturday afternoon. Some had changed their profile pictures to the Lakewood police crest adorned with a blue and black line, and some bore Matlosz's badge number: 317.
Signs honoring the slain officer were printed and distributed around police headquarters. They showed a drawing of Matlosz's badge, with the words "Rest In Peace Christopher Matlosz" and "End Of Watch 01-14-11."
Officers covered parts of their badges in strips of black, in the traditional sign of mourning for a fallen comrade.
Matlosz had just transferred off the midnight shift a week ago. He was engaged to be married next year, and his fiancee, Kelly Walsifer, rushed to the hospital where he died less than an hour after being shot.
On Saturday night, Walsifer issued a statement expressing her devastation over his death, which came about four months after his father had died.
"Chris was my best friend and soulmate. 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."
The suspect was described as a black male in his early 20s or late teens, 5-foot-6 or 5-foot-7, stockily built with sunken eyes and puffy cheeks. He was wearing a black hoodie and dark jeans slung so low that gray boxer shorts were visible, according to a witness account to police.
Matlosz was conducting "a routine stop" of the suspect, chatting with him for a few minutes, Ford said, leading authorities to believe the two may have been acquainted with each other before the shooting.
"What was a routine stop, a routine conversation suddenly turned deadly," she said.
While the suspect fled on foot, a neighbor called 911 just after 4 p.m. to report an officer down. Matlosz was rushed to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where he died in the trauma unit. He is survived by his mother and a brother.