OFFICER Robert Wilson III was a "nice young man" who always checked in on his elderly neighbor. He was a family man, a father of two boys, ages 9 and 1. He was a dedicated public servant, an eight-year veteran of the Police Department who earned the praise of the city's top cop after volunteering for a body-camera pilot program.

And on Thursday afternoon, as snow blanketed the city, Wilson made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting those he swore to serve.

Police said that Wilson, 30, was gunned down while stopping a robbery inside a GameStop store in Hope Plaza, a shopping center on Lehigh Avenue near 21st Street in North Philly's Swampoodle section.

"He was one of the best police officers this city has to offer, period," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said last night. The Police Department, he said, was "in shock" over the slaying of "a very, very brave, heroic individual."

Just before 5 p.m., Wilson entered the GameStop while in uniform and on patrol, police said. He was in the store for a few minutes when two men walked in and announced a holdup.

According to a law-enforcement source, the suspects had walked past Wilson's partner, Officer Damien Stevenson, who was outside the store in a marked police cruiser.

They likely didn't realize that Wilson was a cop when they entered the store because he had his back to them, the source said.

Wilson confronted the bandits, who each produced a handgun and started firing, Ramsey said.

About that time, a woman named Sharon - she didn't want to disclose her last name - was helping co-workers close up shop at Rainbow, a clothing store kitty-corner to the GameStop.

"We were just getting ready to lower the [security] gate when we heard the shots," Sharon recalled last night in the shopping center's parking lot. "Our manager yelled for us to 'get down.' "

Frozen in place, she watched the chaos unfold inside the electronics store, she said.

The two men surrounded Wilson and opened fire at point-blank range. Despite being hit several times, Wilson returned fire in the raging gunbattle, which was recorded by the store's surveillance cameras, Ramsey said.

Stevenson heard the shots, got out of his car and fired at the suspects as the snow swirled.

One of the robbers was struck in the leg and was taken into custody; the other tried to sneak off and blend in with the growing crowd of onlookers, but he also was captured, Ramsey said.

Sharon, from her vantage point, saw an officer grab one of the suspects and slam him into the pavement, handcuffing him.

She said she'll never forget that sight: The officer was weeping as he subdued the suspect.

Ramsey said that investigators recovered two handguns at the scene, one of which had an extended clip, a modification - illegal in some states, but not in Pennsylvania - that allowed it to hold more rounds.

A regional manager for GameStop confirmed to a reporter at the scene that no employees or customers were injured.

Wilson was taken to Temple University Hospital in "grave condition," police said, with a gunshot wound to the head. He was pronounced dead at 6:25 p.m.

"He was such a nice man; he would always take time to talk to us," Sharon said of Wilson, who regularly visited her store to sign its security log while on patrol.

"I'm just sorry to hear this happened."

Ida Pierce, who lives next door to Wilson's rowhouse in West Philadelphia, was heartbroken when she heard of the shooting.

"Oh my God, no. Oh no," Pierce said.

"He was just a nice, young man. I just see him coming and going."

Wilson kept to himself most of the time - "he hardly talked with anyone except for me," said Pierce.

But no matter how busy he was, she said, Wilson always made time to stop and chat with her.

"He always spoke to me very nice and asked me how I'm doing," Pierce said.

She said she often saw Wilson's grandmother paying visits to the rowhouse that Wilson shared with his two sons.

Last night, that house stood dark, guarded by a police cruiser, Pierce said.

Crime-scene investigators remained at Hope Plaza, a stone's throw from the former site of Connie Mack Stadium.

Meanwhile, the men allegedly responsible for Wilson's death - a police source said they are related - remained in police custody, Ramsey said. The wounded man was listed in stable condition at Einstein Medical Center.

Neither man had been charged as of late last night, but the commissioner noted that one of them has five prior arrests and was on parole when he walked into the GameStop.

Gov. Wolf, in a statement last night, sent condolences to Wilson's family and to the police, "especially the officers of the 22nd District. This senseless act is devastating and a stark reminder of the danger faced every day by our brave men and women in uniform."

At a somber news conference outside Temple University Hospital, city leaders mourned Wilson and praised him for his years of service.

Mayor Nutter decried the "senseless level of violence" that he said some people in the city direct toward police officers.

"Once again, too many times individuals engage in aggressive activity with our police officers, who already put their lives on the line for all of us each and every day."

Ramsey said he had met Wilson and Stevenson late last year, when the two cops were part of a group of several 22nd District officers who volunteered to wear body cameras in a pilot program.

Wilson's boss, Capt. Robert Glenn, described the fallen officer as a leader who went out of his way to train younger cops.

"Our city, and our police department, is once again in mourning," said John McGrody, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5.

"Officer Wilson was by all accounts an absolutely outstanding police officer," McGrody said. "This tragedy occurred on a day when 75 percent of Philadelphians didn't leave their home, but this guy suits up to go and protect our citizens, and he never returns home to his two small children."

Late last night, a police motorcade escorted Wilson's body from the hospital in a slow, careful path down Broad Street.

- Staff writers Bob Stewart and Jason Nark contributed to this report.