YESTERDAY, THE CITY tried to make sense of a senseless act, to find answers among chaos.

Why would a former high-school basketball ace throw away a promising career for petty robbery?

What cruel fate led to a greedy bandit running into police officers during two unrelated robberies years apart?

And, most of all, why did Officer Robert Wilson III, a dedicated public servant and caring family man, have to die while buying a gift for his son?

"I think he redefined what a hero is all about," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said of Wilson.

Nowhere was that more clear than on a small thoroughfare in Southwest Philly.

On that block, a steady stream of family and friends entered Wilson's childhood home, where his family still lives.

An officer from the 22nd District, where Wilson served, stood watch at the end of the block as tears were shed and hugs were exchanged.

Larry Robinson, who lives nearby and watched Wilson grow up, couldn't help but remember the quiet, reserved kid who developed into a thoughtful man.

"When I got the call saying the cop involved was Robbie, I denied it," he said yesterday on the steps to his home.

"I just couldn't believe it."

Robinson said Wilson was great with kids, not only his own two sons, but all of the neighborhood youths.

During his regular check-ins with his family, Wilson would help organize touch-football games in the street and helped Robinson coach a Little League baseball team for a few years.

"They took one of the good ones, a special one," Robinson said.

Eerie coincidence

As his family, the department and the city mourned Wilson, 30, an eight-year veteran, a clearer picture emerged yesterday of the men who allegedly gunned him down inside a GameStop in North Philly: Carlton Hipps, 29, and his brother, Ramone Williams, 24, who lived together on Hollywood Street near Stiles in Brewerytown.

According to police, both men have criminal records. Williams has two prior arrests, both of which were juvenile cases and not public record, according to a spokesman from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

Hipps has six prior arrests, five of which were juvenile cases. The sixth case is the May 24, 2004, robbery of the Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits store on Broad Street near Huntingdon in North Philly.

It was the first time that Hipps tried to rob a store at gunpoint while, unknown to him, a Philadelphia police officer was inside.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last.

Ramona Wilcox-Stukes, 47, was the assistant manager on duty at the liquor store that day. She was speaking with a family friend who had stopped to visit her, off-duty Officer Gregory Nelson, when Hipps and an accomplice came into the store with guns and announced a robbery.

" 'Shorty, you know what time it is,' " Hipps said to Wilcox-Stukes as he pointed a gun in her face and demanded the store's cash.

Nelson, who was in plain clothes and unarmed, was able to escape the store during the robbery and called for help. Once the men left the store, he followed Hipps and his accomplice by car until uniformed officers were able to arrest them.

In 2006, Hipps was sentenced to five-to-10 years in prison with three consecutive years probation. However, he was released early, in 2009.

Wilcox-Stukes, who testified during the 2006 trial, said yesterday that one part about the trial sticks out to her more than any other now.

"His mother was saying he was such a good boy," she said. "But the judge said, 'How is he such a good boy holding this woman at gunpoint?' "

'He fought to the end'

At a late-morning news conference yesterday, authorities provided more details into the events that led to Wilson's killing in the video game store, on Lehigh Avenue near 21st.

Wilson had stopped at the store to do a security check and to pick up a gift - a brand-new PlayStation 4 and a game - for his 9-year-old son, who had done well in school and whose 10th birthday is on Monday, police said.

Wilson's partner, Officer Damien Stevenson, waited in a marked police cruiser for him about 30 to 40 feet away from the store, Homicide Capt. James Clark said.

Williams allegedly told investigators that he and his brother never saw the marked cop car. They didn't even see Wilson - who was in full uniform - inside the store until after the robbery was announced, Clark said.

A police source said yesterday that surveillance footage, which captured the entire incident, shows the two walking up to the store with their heads down and hoods up - "tunnel vision" that prevented them from seeing the cruiser parked just feet away.

They entered the store as if they were familiar with the layout: One stayed close to the door while another partially hid behind a nearby column that obscured the cashier's view of the door, the source said.

Wilson was at the store's counter, where several customers and employees were gathered, Ramsey said, and when the robbery was announced, he stepped away from the counter so that the robbers' attention was focused on him and not the civilians.

Wilson then engaged in a "fierce and violent gunbattle," with the two suspects and even continued to shoot at them as he was being hit by gunfire, Clark said. It was a shot to the head that killed Wilson.

"The officer was an out-and-out hero and a warrior," Clark said. "He fought to the very end, firing at both of them."

Once Wilson was down, Hipps and Williams left the store but were immediately met by Stevenson, who engaged them in a second gunbattle, during which he was able to shoot Hipps in the leg, police said.

Hipps was arrested and taken to Einstein Medical Center, where he is under police watch with Wilson's handcuffs around his wrists, Ramsey said.

When the second gunbattle broke out, Williams ran back into the store and tried to blend in as a patron by taking off his hoodie and attempting to hide his gun, Ramsey said.

He even told the store employees not to say anything, "but they, of course, let us know," Ramsey said, and Williams was taken into custody.

From court to crime

Both men have been charged with Wilson's murder and the attempted murder of Stevenson, along with robbery and related offenses. In interviews with police, the men told investigators that the semiautomatic guns they were carrying - which a source identified as two .40 caliber handguns, a Glock and a Ruger - were purchased "on the street," Clark said.

Apparently, the brothers had access to another weapon: A search warrant served on the house they shared on Hollywood Street turned up an AK-47 assault rifle, a police source said.

Relatives of Williams and Hipps at the home declined to comment yesterday morning.

One woman who emerged from the property simply said: "I give my condolences. I do."

But those who knew Williams were floored to hear that he had turned to such a dark path.

Veronica Joyner, the principal of Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, knew Williams from his time at her school - he transferred there during the final eight months of his senior year from Imhotep Institute Charter High School, she said.

Williams was quiet, maintained good grades and was a standout point guard for the school's basketball team, one the Daily News singled out in its February 2009 recruiting guide for college scouts.

"He didn't have any disciplinary problems," she said. "He's not one of the students who I would have thought would end up being involved in something like this."

After graduating, Williams went on to Harcum College, Joyner said.

"If they needed money, they could have been out with shovels, clearing people's pavement to earn a couple of dollars," Joyner said. "This is such a tragedy."

'One of a kind'

To those who served with Wilson, that's an understatement.

Capt. Robert Glenn, commander of the 22nd District, said Wilson was "great" and "fun" person. He loved life, policing and, most importantly, his two young sons, ages 9 and 1.

"In his last day on Earth he was able to save lives in that store," Glenn said. "We lost a warrior."

Charles Phillips, a retired Philadelphia police officer who got to know Wilson when Wilson first joined the force and was assigned to the 22nd District, said his friend was a "one-of- a- kind officer."

Phillips worked, at the time, for the Accident Investigation Division, and was detailed to Police Headquarters, where he administered Breathalyzer tests on suspected drunken drivers.

"[Wilson] was there often on weekends, bringing people in for DUI testing," Phillips said. "He'd say, 'There's plenty more out there, so I'll be back.' I'd tell him to protect himself and be careful."

Phillips, who retired in 2012 after more than two decades on the job, said Wilson was inquisitive, and peppered him with questions about the nine years Phillips spent working in the 22nd.

"It was a small, violent district," he said.

Phillips said the GameStop where Wilson was gunned down was regularly targeted by robbers.

"What makes me sick is that cops get a bad rap all the way around today, because of a few bad apples," he said. "We were American heroes 25 years ago, but now we're treated like the bad guys. We still put on that uniform every day, knowing that we might not come home to our families."