In their shock and grief, other cops offered Robert Wilson III the best compliments they knew. That he made them proud to be a cop. Proud to wear the same uniform.

That in his final moments, Officer Wilson, Badge #9990, saved lives - that he could have dived for cover but instead relied on instinct and guts and drew fire away from others.

That he fought until he couldn't.

That he held his own.

That this city was a lesser place without him.

It was a security stop, a chance check on a business. That's what patrol officers do in the 22d District in North Philadelphia, where robberies are common.

But Wilson, 30 years old and an eight-year veteran of the force, had also wanted to drop by the GameStop on Lehigh Avenue to buy his son a video game. His oldest. The boy turns 10 on Monday and had done well in school.

It was snowing Thursday. There wouldn't be cops. That's what the brainless thugs - Carlton Hipps and his brother Ramone Williams - had figured when they planned to rob the GameStop.

"An easy target," was how Williams described it to police in his confession.

Except it was anything but an easy target. Because Wilson was at the counter talking to a clerk about a video game for his son and he was willing to give his life for his job.

Two on one. He didn't have a chance, but he didn't hesitate. The gunmen yelled that it was a robbery. There were a handful of customers, including a 13-year-old girl, and a few people behind the counter.

In drawing his own weapon, Wilson moved away from the counter to protect the others and draw fire to himself. The killers fired from behind cardboard posters advertising video games. A surreal backdrop for a killing committed by men who showed as little regard for life as they would a character in one of those games.

If only it were a video game.

Wilson kept firing even as the bullets struck him. Until the final shot - one to his head - and then he had given everything. Hipps and Williams kept firing bullets into him as he lay where he fell. "Nothing short of a warrior," said one officer who viewed surveillance video from the store.

At a news conference at police headquarters Friday as he announced the arrests, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey struggled to maintain his composure. He said that in all of his years in law enforcement, he had seen many heroic actions, but none that rose above what he saw on that video.

"He redefined what a hero is all about," Ramsey said.

And he reminded us of something else: that part of the job of being a police officer is accepting that it could all come down to a few awful moments inside a video-game store. That their oath means making sure that six strangers are safe behind a counter and that the bullets are coming their way - that men like Hipps and Williams do not get away to hurt someone else another day.

That now, instead of celebrating a birthday, a 10-year-old boy will bury a father. That Wilson's other son, who is 1, will never know him.

It was a feeling not lost on the huddle of homicide detectives who gathered around a computer screen at police headquarters late Thursday night to watch the video that captured the final moments of Officer Robert Wilson III.

The room was silent as the video played. There was nothing left to say.

mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759 @MikeNewall