A Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed with a military-style assault rifle late yesterday morning when he confronted a band of robbers who had held up a Bank of America branch at a ShopRite in Port Richmond.
"Tell my wife I'll miss her," Schiller Street residents heard dying Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski say as they went to his side.
Other officers, catching up again with the robbers' stolen getaway car moments later, shot and killed one of the suspects.
Hundreds of officers were still searching darkened streets early today for one, two or even more of the robbers. Late last night, police combed parks and fields in the area, often using dogs and helicopters. For a time they believed they had cornered a suspect in Tacony Creek Park near the intersection of Tampa Street and Wyoming Avenue, but no arrest was made there.
Authorities also had several people in custody and were questioning them about the robbery and killing.
"This is a tragedy for the entire city of Philadelphia," Mayor Nutter said at Temple University Hospital, where the fallen officer was taken.
Liczbinski, 39, of Northeast Philadelphia, was a 12-year police veteran assigned to the 24th District in Port Richmond. He only recently had been promoted to sergeant, and would have turned 40 on Tuesday.
His wife, Michelle, and their children - Matt, Steven and Amber - were escorted into the hospital by police officials.
In the Port Richmond area, Nancy Braun, 43, a homemaker and mother of two, heard the gunfire that killed the officer.
She said she had heard several shots, then a neighbor's screams. She ran out of her door in her socks and saw Liczbinski lying beside his patrol car near Schiller and Almond Streets.
A man, she said, was cradling Liczbinski in his arms while trying, with no success, to stop the blood gushing from his abdomen. Blood was also pouring from one of Liczbinski's elbows, she said.
As other neighbors gathered around, Braun said, the stricken officer looked up and around before uttering the words for his wife.
He then gurgled, she said. Blood leaked from his mouth. His face became ashen.
Another officer and a man from the neighborhood lifted Liczbinski into a patrol car and took him to the nearest medical facility, Northeastern Hospital of Philadelphia. He was taken to Temple University Hospital, on North Broad Street, later.
While all that went on, the robbers crashed their Jeep - reported carjacked a day earlier - a couple of blocks away.
The robbers then got into a van - police said they weren't initially sure where it had come from or how the robbers had obtained it - and continued their flight.
By then, police cars were racing up and down area streets.
Officers spotted the van, lost it, and picked it up again at Robbins and Bingham Streets.
The van stopped at Loudon Street near Roosevelt Boulevard with a patrol car behind it. Earlier, in the attack on Liczbinski, at least one robber apparently had gotten out of the Jeep and shot the officer as he left his vehicle.
The same thing appeared to be happening again.
But this time, two officers - one from the K-9 unit - got the drop on the one robber still in the vehicle at that time. They shot him dead.
Police said they had recovered an AK-47 assault rifle that they believed had been used to kill Liczbinski. The AK-47 had jammed and couldn't be fired, a police source said.
Last night, as police continued piecing together details of the day's events, officials could give only sketchy details of the heist that had begun it all. They could not even say how many robbers there were.
At 11:26 a.m., police radio received a report of a robbery at the Bank of America branch in a nook near the produce section of the ShopRite in the 3700 block of Aramingo Avenue.
No one was reported hurt in the robbery, and police gave no information on how much money might have been taken.
A ShopRite official, not in the branch at the time, noticed the robbers as they moved away from the counter. They were masked and wore draped, neck-to-foot clothing, he said. He could not tell if they were men or women. He saw no weapon.
Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, gave a slightly different description of the robbers.
He described one as a man wearing "Muslim garb" and carrying a shoulder bag.
He said a second robber, apparently a woman, was wearing full-length, "light-brown Muslim garb."
A third possible robber, a man well over 6 feet tall, was described as wearing a "dreadlock wig" and a construction dust mask. He had on blue jeans and a flannel shirt.
Police found discarded clothing in an alley near one of the shootings. A pistol also was found.
Nadine Kradzinski, 45, of Port Richmond, was in the ShopRite checkout line when she heard a shopping cart behind her "going really fast," she said. Her first thought was kids playing.
Then she saw the terror on another customer's face and heard screams.
"The bank is being held up," she heard someone shout.
Customers began to run in all directions.
"The store employees jumped into action," she said. One ran out after the robbers, she said, as another called police on the phone.
Kradzinski ran to her car in the lot, where she had left her two boys, ages 13 and 10. They left immediately and went to the Pathmark down the street.
"I just wanted to get away," she said.
Liczbinski was the third member of Philadelphia's 6,600-member police force to be shot to death by robbers in the last two years.
The department is still healing from the fatal shooting of Officer Chuck Cassidy on Oct. 31 at a Dunkin Donuts in West Oak Lane. Cassidy was shot in the head as he interrupted a robbery. He died the next day at Albert Einstein Medical Center.
In 2006, Officer Gary Skerski was fatally wounded in the neck with a shotgun while responding to a robbery in the city's Frankford section.
"We are all affected by what happened," Nutter said at a news conference outside Temple University Hospital. "I ask the public to rally around the family. They will need ongoing help. I just want to express my personal sympathy to the family and thank the officer for his long, hard work. He made the ultimate sacrifice."
Nutter declared a 30-day period of mourning for Liczbinski and requested that all flags in the city be lowered to half-staff during that time.
He also called on the religious community to recognize today as a day of peace and to pray for Liczbinski and his family.
A friend of Liczbinski's, Sgt. Raymond Evers, said he was an officer who "produced every time."
Evers said that as a detective who had worked with Liczbinski in the Fourth District in South Philadelphia, he had often called on Liczbinski and his partner whenever he needed help finding a witness or nabbing a suspect with a warrant.
"He locked people up, and he was very good at it," said Evers, who now works with the public-affairs unit.
Shortly after 4:30 p.m., a black hearse pulled up to the hospital.
Liczbinski's flag-draped casket was loaded into the hearse. The door was shut.
With more than a dozen Highway Patrol officers on motorcycles leading the way, the hearse slowly pulled away.