FORESTVILLE, Md. -- Police were searching for a man who shot and killed an off-duty Maryland state trooper early Friday after the trooper escorted him from a restaurant over a disputed bill, Prince George's County police said.
Trooper First Class Wesley W. Brown, 24, escorted a disorderly customer from an Applebee's on Thursday evening and when he left the restaurant around 12:40 a.m. Friday, State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence Sheridan said that customer shot him.
Brown, who was wearing a jacket that clearly identified him as a police officer on the back, was talking on the phone in the restaurant's parking lot and was shot without warning, Sheridan said.
Brown was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Police closed the road to the shopping center where the shooting took place Friday morning with cruisers, vans and yellow police tape.
Some Applebee's employees who were at the restaurant when the shooting occurred were just leaving later Friday morning, but declined to be interviewed.
"They're very upset. They've been here all night," said the mother of one of those employees. She did not want to be identified. "I just feel sorry for the officer and his family."
Brown's death has devastated the trooper's law enforcement and personal family and the community he protected, Sheridan said.
"These men and women put their lives on the line and when this happens it goes against our society, it goes against everything we stand for," said Sheridan, who visited the scene with Gov. Martin O'Malley on Friday morning as police searched the area.
O'Malley said that for now, police must focus on finding the shooter.
"There's no way to make sense of a murder like this of a dedicated 24-year-old trooper who was doing his job and out there on the streets for us," O'Malley said.
Brown was assigned to the Forestville barracks and was recently engaged to be married, said State Police spokesman Greg Shipley. Brown was working off-duty at the time of the shooting, Shipley said. Many troopers do security work as part-time jobs, but it must be approved by the state police command, he said.
Brown founded a mentoring group called Young Men Enlightening Younger Men in 2007. On the group's website, Brown wrote that his friends and family "came together to show the young men in the community that there is a bigger and brighter future ahead of them with unlimited possibilities."
A 2007 Maryland Gazette article about the group said Brown ran into problems himself as a teenager, including being kicked out of high school for fighting, but turned his life around. He wanted to inspire teens to do the same.
William Hodge, who works at the Old Country Buffett next to the Applebee's, said there have long been safety concerns in the area and that it's not unusual for restaurants to hire security.
"I wouldn't walk up this road at 1 o'clock in the morning," Hodge said. He said there have been robberies, vandalism and incidents where customers have attacked employees at nearby restaurants.
Still, "this is extreme right here, killing a cop, you just don't do that," he said. "This is going to put the criminals here on high alert."