Remembering Lakewood's Finest

Wednesday, Jan 19, 2011  |  Updated 10:15 PM EDT
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Remembering Lakewood's Finest

ASBURY PARK PRESS

Patrolman Christopher Matlosz

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Last week, Lakewood Patrolman Chris Matlosz asked his pal Stephen Gibson to be in his wedding party next year.

That was the day before the officer was shot to death.

On Wednesday, the day before Matlosz was to be buried, Gibson was helping plan the officer's funeral, writing and rewriting the eulogy he was to deliver.

“Everyone is still in shock,” said Gibson, a civilian employee of the New Jersey State Police and a friend of Matlosz's for 12 years. “It's still sinking in. But today people are making preparations. They want to see Chris go out a hero.”

A sea of blue flooded the funeral home where Matlosz's wake was held Wednesday afternoon, with hundreds of officers from departments across the state and beyond turning out to pay their respects.

As relatives of the slain officer were driven into the funeral home's parking lot, 100 white-gloved officers in crisp dress uniforms lined either side of the driveway. The officers snaked around into the lot, lining the exterior wall of the building and forming a symbolic circle around Matlosz's family and his fiancée in total silence.

“Whenever a police officer dies in an accident or from an illness, it's tragic enough,” said John Zicha, an officer who served two years with Matlosz on the Howell Township First Aid Squad. “But when one is murdered like this, it's unfathomable. You can't believe it. How can someone have no conscience to walk up to someone and shoot them, especially a police officer?”

The suspect in Matlosz's killing, 19-year-old Jahmell Crockam of Lakewood, made his first court appearance Tuesday. He is charged with murder and weapons offenses and is being held on $5 million bail. His lawyer said Crockam plans to plead not guilty when he is arraigned in a few weeks.

Authorities say Matlosz was on patrol in a residential neighborhood Friday afternoon in an area that had been the scene of several drive-by shootings. He drove up alongside the suspect, who was on the sidewalk, and began chatting with him, police said.

Suddenly, authorities say, the suspect pulled a gun out of his baggy clothing and shot Matlosz three times, mortally wounding him. Matlosz never had time to go for his own gun, which was still in its holster as the suspect ran away, police said.

Crockam was arrested Sunday in an apartment in Camden, about 60 miles from the shooting scene.

As hundreds filed into the funeral parlor, some of those closest to Matlosz had to delay their own mourning. There were still last-minute details to take care of: where each spray of flowers should go, whether a framed charcoal sketch of Matlosz should go to the right or left of a photo of his fiancee inside the funeral home (They chose right.), whether to include any slightly off-color stories in tributes to Matlosz that would be delivered the next day at his funeral. (Gibson decided against it.)

“We're just running around doing things, and we don't have time to grieve yet,” Zicha said. “We want to make sure everything looks nice and everything goes perfect. Our time will happen after the funeral.”

Security has been tight at events concerning the patrolman's death as authorities take seriously rumors that street gangs have threatened to attack police officers around the state in retaliation for Crockam's arrest. Authorities have refused to say whether Crockam was a gang member.

Hours before the wake began, khaki-clad snipers took up positions on the roof of a pool store next to the funeral parlor, setting up machine gun nests and scanning the area with binoculars, just as they had done the previous day at Crockam's court appearance, and the day before that at a public vigil for the officer.

Other officers, wearing helmets and body armor, toted machine guns as they patrolled the parking lot and guarded the entrances to the funeral parlor.

Jeff DeMatteo, a captain with the first aid squad and a friend of Matlosz's, said those who knew the slain officer were trying to remember him in the good times.

“I don't think it's sunk in yet,” he said. “It's so depressing. He was the best guy you could ever meet. If you missed him, you missed out. He touched a lot of people.”


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