The death of Plymouth Township Police Officer Bradley Fox has left the two Montgomery County communities where he worked and lived reeling.

Everyone who knew him, or even crossed paths with him, appeared to be in mourning. For some, just as unsettling was that their sense of security had somehow been pulled from beneath them - that no community was immune to something this tragic.

"Everyone is still talking about it," said gas station attendant R.J. Taylor, 61, at Jim's Liberty Station, near the police station where Fox worked. "It's pretty bad."

Taylor said he remembers seeing Fox in his police uniform regularly sitting by himself at the Chinese restaurant next door, having his dinner.

But he didn't see him Thursday. Instead, Taylor said he counted 11 police cruisers whizzing by just after 5:30 p.m., sirens blaring. They were responding to a call that every police officer dreads - that one their own was down and in need of assistance.

"They were flying by here," Taylor said. "I knew something was up."

Fox, a seven-year police veteran and new K-9 officer, was responding to a hit-and-run crash in Plymouth Township when he got into a confrontation with a suspect who fled the scene of a three-car pileup in a stolen SUV.

Authorities say the SUV then crashed into a white Chrysler 300 Sedan on Conshohocken State Road, and the suspect ran off.

Montgomery County police authorities say that Fox and his K-9 partner, Nick, chased the suspect on foot in a desolate, industrial area dotted with warehouses and auto-body shops along the Schuylkill Trail, about a half-mile from the Montgomery County Fire Academy.

Police say the suspect, identified as Andrew Charles Thomas, 44, shot Fox at least four times. The officer died instantly from a gunshot wound to the head.

Fox, a Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq, was one day shy of turning 35. He became the first officer killed in the line of duty in Plymouth Township.

Authorities said that as police closed in on Thomas, the suspect took his own life, firing into his chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy on Friday determined the cause of death to be suicide.

Montgomery County Coroner Walter Hofman repeated that finding on Saturday.

"It's still a homicide for one, and a suicide for the other," he said.

Authorities say Thomas had an extensive criminal record. At the time of his death he was on probation in Montgomery County after pleading guilty to a forgery charge in May.

Philadelphia police said he had been the prime suspect in the 1999 disappearance of his then-fiancee, Maria Procopio of South Philadelphia, though he was never charged in connection with her presumed death.

Brett A. Datto, the attorney for the Thomas family, said late Saturday that "the family and I have no comment at this time."

But those who knew or worked with Fox had plenty to say about him.

Kim Chen, 37, whose family owns the Super Wok Chinese restaurant where Fox was a patron, said she found out what happened through customers Thursday.

"Some came in very upset that night," she said. "It never happens here - a police officer getting shot like that. This isn't Philadelphia."

A police cruiser from the Plymouth Township K-9 unit was stationed in front of the Foxes' Gilbertsville home all day Saturday. Several small American flags lined the lawn in his memory.

A steady parade of police officers and friends stopped in Saturday to pay their respects to his family. Fox leaves behind a pregnant wife, Lynsay, and 3-year-old daughter.

"He was the best guy. Just the best," said one officer, who asked not to be named, as he fought back tears on his way to the Fox house at 6:30 p.m.

The home sits in a tidy cul-de-sac of two-story, single-family residences occupied mostly by young families with small children - just like the Fox household.

"We're trying to hold it together for her," neighbor Michelle Ward, 36, said of Fox's widow. Ward, a mother of three who lives two doors down, said the neighborhood plans to hold several fund-raiser bake sales for her, including one next Sunday. "We're all very sad, but we want her to know we are here for her," she said.

"We are all kind of numb. It really hit close to home because we have two police officers that live in this development," she said.

"It makes you want to hold your family closer to you because it can happen at anytime, and to anyone."

Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phllynews.com.