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Off-duty officer killed in jewelry store robbery; Three men sought after police sergeant is shot in Pikesville

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A regional manhunt continued last night for three men wanted in the fatal shooting of an off-duty Baltimore County police officer during a morning robbery at a Pikesville jewelry store.

Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero, 35, who was working as a security guard at the store, was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital about noon, 45 minutes after the shooting. The decorated 12-year veteran was married with five young children, including triplets.

County police say he is the fifth officer to die in the line of duty in the department's 126-year history.

A popular and dedicated police officer, Prothero's death left his colleagues shaken. Officers' hands trembled as they searched the area around J. Brown Jewelers in the 1800 block of Reisterstown Road.

"It's a very sad mood here. At this moment it is difficult for officers to do their jobs," said Capt. Richard Weih, commander of the Woodlawn precinct.

Throughout the day, police helicopters and patrol cars combed the Baltimore-Washington corridor for three men who escaped in a gray, older-model Oldsmobile Delta 88.

A man driving a car fitting that description was arrested on traffic and drug charges about 1 p.m. yesterday by police in Southeast Washington. Two Baltimore County detectives were in Washington last night to question the driver, identified as Joshua Gaddy, 19, of Suitland.

Police spokesman Bill Toohey said that vehicle and several others in the Baltimore area matching the getaway car's description were towed to police headquarters in Towson to be examined.

Police were reviewing the store's security camera tapes. Investigators said the dozen witnesses in the store gave differing versions of events leading to the fatal shooting.

Before Prothero's death was officially announced, officers countywide were aware of the loss. Some were crying. Some were visibly angry.

"It is my sad duty to report that Sergeant Prothero passed away," Col. Bernard Gerst said as he fought back tears at a 4: 30 p.m. news conference outside the store. After learning the news, Chief Terrence B. Sheridan cut short a trip to Hawaii for a police conference and returned home.

Two robbers in store

The incident began about 11: 15 a.m. when two men entered J. Brown Jewelers, across from the Festival at Woodholme shopping center, and announced a robbery, Toohey said.

One man showed a handgun to the people in the store, Toohey said. The men grabbed some jewelry, but no cash, and ran out the front doors.

Prothero, who had worked part time at J. Brown as a plainclothes security guard for at least two years, chased the robbers outside, the police spokesman said.

The robbers shot at Prothero in the store's side parking lot, where the Oldsmobile was waiting. The car was last seen driving south on Reisterstown Road toward Interstate 695. Witnesses told police that a third man was waiting in the car, which had temporary tags.

Toohey said Prothero never fired his weapon, which had been recovered.

Officers arriving minutes after the shooting found Prothero lying at the edge of the parking lot, bleeding from two gunshot wounds. Broken glass was found nearby, and police said the getaway car's rear window might have been hit by gunfire.

In police radio broadcasts, dispatchers repeatedly asked the officer's status. An officer's voice finally called in for help, saying Prothero was neither breathing nor conscious.

Two paramedics and two police officers tried to resuscitate Prothero.

About a half-hour later, an ambulance took the wounded officer to Sinai, where family members, colleagues and government officials later gathered.

"This is a very, extremely sad and tragic situation," County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said after talking with Prothero's relatives. "All we can do is pray for the officer's family.

"I want to let them know that we are all part of a larger family and that we are here for them."

Also at the hospital were Baltimore City Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel; Gary McLhinney, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police; and Baltimore County's current and former FOP presidents, Cole Weston and L. Timothy Caslin.

Crisis counselors met with Prothero's family and police officers to help them deal with their grief.

Family members declined to speak with the news media. Most left the hospital at 3: 30 p.m. A woman arrived later and was told of her brother's death.

At the crime scene, two J. Brown employees cried and held each other as they walked out a side door.

Reluctant witnesses

Frightened witnesses appeared reluctant to talk and were escorted to their cars by police.

The popular jewelry shop, frequented by Baltimore Ravens and Orioles players, was robbed by a gunman about a year ago -- also while Prothero was working as a security guard. He was not injured in that robbery, police said.

"Everybody who worked on the west side knew him," said Sgt. Russell Palmer, part of a countywide anti-crime unit. "Nobody had any trouble working with him. His kids were everything to him, that's why he was working part time -- to pay the bills."

Moment of silence

Last night, the Baltimore County Council observed a moment of silence for Prothero. County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said: "While we think of his memory, we should also be thankful for the officers every day who put their lives on the line to protect the county."

As news of the fatal shooting spread, officer after officer described Prothero as a great supervisor and a dedicated family man.

"He treated the officers like they were his own family," said Officer Dale Green of Garrison Precinct, where Prothero worked most of his career.

Prothero graduated from the police academy in 1987, became a corporal in 1995 and was promoted to sergeant in 1998. In September, he was transferred to the Woodlawn Precinct to head up its investigative services team.

Midway through his career, Prothero was awarded a Unit Citation for superior performance. He was nominated the next year for the Silver Star, the department's second highest award, for stopping a suicidal Reisterstown man who wielded two butcher knives.

Prothero also received many letters of appreciation and merit certificates over the years from citizens, other law enforcement agencies and the chief.

"You know, we've been very, very lucky so far," Palmer said. "Sometimes, good luck runs out."

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson, Liz Atwood and David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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