JERSEY CITY - Melvin Santiago had dreamed of being a police officer since he was a boy, seeking to follow in his uncle's footsteps.
When Santiago accomplished his dream last December and joined the Jersey City force as a rookie officer, he asked to serve in the city's toughest district. Seven months after he graduated from the academy, the 23-year-old was killed in the line of duty when a gunman shot him in the head.
Santiago died early Sunday, as he and other officers responded to a report of a possible armed robbery at a 24-hour Walgreens store.
The suspect, identified as 27-year-old Lawrence Campbell, had entered the store with a knife. Campbell allegedly assaulted an armed security guard and took his gun. While someone in the store called police, the suspect allegedly waited outside for police to arrive.
Campbell never tried to rob the store, according to the Jersey City mayor's office. Instead, he waited to ambush police and told a witness to watch the news because he was "going to be famous." When police responded, Campbell fatally shot Santiago. Officers returned fire at the suspect, killing him.
A growing memorial of candles, cards and flowers mark the spot where Santiago was killed. Flags were flown at half-staff around the city today.
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The uncle who inspired Santiago to become a cop said in a statement that Santiago was a role model and mentor to his younger brother and cousins.
A wake will be held for Santiago on Thursday, and a funeral will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Aloysius Church in Jersey City.