Robert Wilson III was a quiet neighbor. He lived alone in his West Philadelphia rowhouse. He used to have a dog he walked; in the summers, he fiddled with his motorcycle.

But the children are what Ida Pierce admired the most about her next-door neighbor, the Philadelphia police officer killed Thursday afternoon in an attempted robbery of a North Philadelphia video-game store.

"He had to be a good father," Pierce, 71, said Friday morning. She knew that because of the countless times she waved to the older son and the youngest Wilson, held in a small carrier.

Wilson was engaged to be married and lived by himself, save for weekends when his two sons, ages 9 and 1, would come over.

"They didn't just stay a day," Pierce said. "They stayed when he was off from work, and he kept them the whole time."

Police said Wilson, 30, died during a routine security check at the GameStop at 2101 W. Lehigh Ave. While there, he intended to purchase a gift for his older son.

Wilson's neighbors described a man who maintained a private work and social life. Community members in North Philadelphia's dangerous 22d Police District viewed Wilson as an affable ally. And colleagues spoke of Wilson as a model officer, one who volunteered for the department's body-camera pilot program.

He was "always smiling," Sgt. Eric Gripp said, like he "never had a bad day in his life."

Wilson was a member of Gripp's squad in the 22d. He recalled Wilson's entering the police station, excited for work, and armed with a question: Hey, Sarge, what do you have for me?

The challenges in the 22d District were often demanding. Wilson thrived in the setting.

"The Police Department, that is a job that breeds intense people," said Tanner Rouse, an assistant district attorney who worked some cases with Wilson. "Rob wasn't that. Rob was just a super-nice, approachable guy. I don't know anyone who had a bad word to say about him."

Brian Smith, who runs a camp in North Philadelphia called Basketball Builds Bridges, was stunned when he saw Wilson's photo circulate on social media Thursday night.

Wilson was an officer who cared, Smith said. He noticed good work. He cared about kids and their community.

"What could he have possibly done for someone to do that to him?" Smith, 29, asked.

Wilson was the victim of unfortunate timing, police officials said. The gunmen - brothers ages 24 and 29 - arrived to rob the GameStop while Wilson was shopping for his son. More than 50 shots were fired in a gun battle that lasted just 30 seconds.

As Pauline Hilton, another neighbor, chipped away at the frozen sidewalk Friday morning on the 5400 block of Locust Street, she gazed at the nearby parked Philadelphia police patrol car. She thought it ironic, given Wilson's desire to cloak his day job. He never wore his uniform to and from the house.

"A lot of people on this block probably didn't know he was a policeman," said Hilton, a retired teacher. "I just feel so sad."

Wilson, a West Philadelphia High School graduate, bought the modest two-story rowhouse for $86,000 in June 2007, months before his 23d birthday. He paid his taxes every year. He bought a grill, and stuck it in front of his steps. He might have used it twice, Pierce said.

His blue Honda motorcycle was a passion. During the summer, he parked it next to the grill.

"It saves on gas," Wilson told Pierce one day.

"But you be careful," she said.

"I will."

Every fall, once the motorcycle was stored elsewhere, he rooted for the Green Bay Packers. Wilson basked in Green Bay's 33-point destruction of the Eagles last November.

"He came in with a 1,000-watt smile that day," Rouse said.

Pierce said she needed a pill to help her sleep Thursday night. She remembered the many times Wilson - unprompted and unannounced - dragged her trash cans to the curb for collection.

"I can just still see him coming out the house," she said. "You can tell he was a young man who wanted something. He bought the house. He had a motorcycle. He had a car. He was working for something."

Pierce shook her head. The rest of the block was shoveling out. By now, she said, Wilson's steps and sidewalk would have looked pristine.

"He didn't do just a little bit," Pierce said. "He did the whole thing."

Instead, a teddy bear and candle rested on an ice-encrusted step to Wilson's now-vacant home. 215-854-2928 @MattGelb