NEWARK, N.J. - An off-duty Newark police officer stopping by a neighborhood fast-food place for a slice of pizza was killed in a drive-by shooting, but authorities said Friday it doesn't appear he was the target.
Two other customers were wounded but survived the Thursday night attack that killed Officer William Johnson, 45.
Rasul McNeil-Thomas, 19, was arrested Friday at his home in Newark and charged with carjacking, conspiracy, and weapons offenses. Authorities say McNeil-Thomas and another person stole a car that was believed to have been used in the robbery and was recovered nearby.
Acting Police Director Samuel DeMaio said investigators believe the shooters intended to attack someone in the restaurant.
DeMaio said video surveillance from inside the fast-food place showed that the shooting happened so quickly, Johnson would not have had time to draw a weapon.
Police canvassed the South Ward neighborhood putting up posters for Crimestoppers, hoping a $20,000 reward would induce witnesses to come forward with details of the shooting.
The vehicle from which the shots came sped off immediately, authorities said. DeMaio said there were multiple shots fired. Details on a possible weapon used or the vehicle were not immediately released.
Police and city leaders were mourning the loss of the veteran officer.
"He is from our city. He lived in Newark. He is one of our own, up from the bricks," Mayor Cory Booker said. "We must work together to say this will never happen again."
Johnson, an officer since 1995, was known in the department as an affable, dedicated cop who excelled at any assignment he was given, DeMaio said. He was assigned to the video surveillance unit, monitoring police cameras set up around the city, and alerting officers in the streets to suspicious activities.
In this case, investigators are looking at video from inside and outside the restaurant to help solve the slaying.
Johnson was off-duty when he stopped by Texas Fried Chicken & Pizza. Surveillance video shows him standing at the counter, waiting for his food when the shooting occurred, according to DeMaio.
The bullets came from a vehicle outside the restaurant at about 9:50 p.m.
Besides Johnson, two others were hit. A 21-year-old man was wounded in the stomach and was in stable condition Friday. A 19-year-old at the restaurant with her toddler was struck in the shoulder. She has been released from the hospital.
Police say there were more people in the fast-food place, and one may have been the intended target. They were asking the public's help in tracking down witnesses who may have been inside the restaurant or in the vicinity.
The slain officer grew up in Newark and continued to live in the city that often ranks as one of the nation's most dangerous. He had two daughters and was not married.
He was declared dead just after 3 a.m.
Violent crime has risen in Newark in the last two years, despite gains in 2007 and 2008. There were twice as many murders, 20, in the first three months of this year, compared with last year, according to police department statistics. The increase has come after much-publicized layoffs that cut nearly 15 percent of the police force at the end of last year.
"This is a very sad day for us, our city is deeply deeply wounded. We are in agony," Booker said.