After Collingswood Shooting, Officer Is In Stable Condition Christopher Rodgers, 29, Was Hit While Responding To An Armed Robbery. He Had To Have Surgery On A Femur.

Posted: September 28, 1999

COLLINGSWOOD — Christopher Rodgers, the Collingswood police officer shot in the hip after responding to an armed robbery late Saturday night, was in stable condition - and good spirits - yesterday at Cooper Hospital University Medical Center in Camden surrounded by his family and fellow officers.

"He's alert. He's conscious," said Chief Tom Garrity. "He's doing remarkably well, given the circumstances of what he went through."

Reports from Garrity and other visitors, including Mayor Jim Maley and former Mayor Mike Brennan, indicated that Rodgers, a three-year veteran of the force, was upbeat but exhausted after seven hours of reconstructive surgery to repair damage to his left femur. Garrity said Rodgers would remain in the hospital for a week or 10 days longer, but he added that full rehabilitation could take months.

Meanwhile, borough residents, fellow officers, and law-enforcement personnel throughout the state have rallied around Rodgers, 29, and his wife, who is six months pregnant with the couple's first child.

Garrity said Rodgers and borough police "have been overwhelmed" with phone calls, flowers and cards from borough residents. He said calls are also coming in from police departments across New Jersey. The local Wawa on Haddon Avenue has a collection bucket on its counter seeking donations for the charity of Rodgers' choice.

Already, Garrity said, neighbors in this close-knit community, where people know police by their first names, are planning events to support Rodgers and his wife.

"He [Rodgers] has been amazed by the support," Garrity said.

Rodgers was the first officer shot in the line of duty since Officer Dana Saxton was shot in 1988, after responding to a domestic dispute. Saxton recovered and is now a sergeant on the force.

Few new details have emerged from the home invasion-turned-fire-fight that felled Rodgers late Saturday night in the 700 block of Harrison Avenue. According to police reports, two men forced their way into the second-floor condominium about 11:15 p.m. and pistol-whipped a woman who was inside with two 13-year-olds and a 10-year-old.

Neighbors said they heard the men screaming, "Where is it? Where is it?"

Minutes later, when Rodgers arrived on the scene with two other officers, Rodgers was met by a round of gunshots coming from the top of the stairwell.

Rodgers, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, returned fire after being shot in the left hip. In all, police said, about 10 shots were fired.

Nearly 50 uniformed police officers responded to the shooting when a call of an officer down crackled across police radios, some coming from as far away as Berlin Township, said Capt. Frank Woshnak. Police from Haddon Township, Oaklyn, Woodlynne, Audubon, Cherry Hill, Pennsauken and Camden were all on the scene.

Police arrested Lyman Coleman, 20, also known as Lyman Ricketts, of Camden, on the porch of a nearby Catell Avenue home Saturday night during a search of the area. Jonathan Thomas, 21, also of Camden, was arrested late Sunday afternoon after surrendering to investigators from the Collingswood Police Department and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

Both men were charged with three counts of attempted murder, burglary, theft, unlawful use of a weapon, and aggravated assault and were being held at Camden County Jail. Yesterday, a Superior Court judge set bail at $500,000 for Thomas and $200,000 for Coleman. Authorities said they were still trying to identify which of the men fired at Rodgers.

A third man, who police said drove the pair to Harrison Avenue, was being held for questioning.

Garrity maintained that the armed robbery of the condominium had not been random.

"There's an obvious connection here," Garrity said. "They had this particular house in mind."

One theory, police said, was that the two men who were charged had business dealings with the victim's boyfriend, but the exact nature of the dealings was not revealed. Greg Reinert, spokesman for county Prosecutor Lee A. Solomon, said the two men expected to find "some sizable cash" in the apartment.

Garrity said the victim's boyfriend arrived on the scene about the same time as the police and fled. He was being questioned by police.

Neighbors who live in the aging brick condominiums at the corner of Harrison and Richey Avenues were rattled by the attack.

"It shook us up," said Brenda Efymow, who lives a few doors down from where Rodgers was shot.

"At least we're renting and can get out," she said. "I think the neighborhood is going down." Efymow said she and her husband are planning to move to Gloucester County with their 10-month-old child, and she blamed an absentee landlord for not monitoring tenants at the condominiums.

But Sharon Abiuso, who moved from Haddonfield into her new house on the corner of Richey and Harrison Avenues Saturday afternoon and was awakened by gun shots a few hours later, said the shooting would not spoil her housewarming nor scare her away from the neighborhood.

"I grew up in Center City Philly," Abiuso said. "This kind of stuff can happen anywhere now."

The day after the incident, she said, children on Harrison and Richey Avenues were playing in the street. "It just seems people are letting life go on as usual," she said. "Nobody expects it to happen again anytime soon."

The last time Collingswood suffered a home invasion was in August 1995, when four armed men forced their way into the home of a Vietnamese family, tied up three family members with an electrical cord, and ransacked the house.

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