The filmmakers ask Richard Norcross to pull over at the house where he was shot five times - the house where his younger brother and another law enforcement officer were gunned down 20 years ago.

"It's a very eerie feeling," says Norcross, who was a Haddon Heights police detective when Leslie Nelson's bloody rampage made national headlines.

Glancing at the innocuous two-story dwelling on Sylvan Drive where his life changed forever on April 20, 1995, Norcross adds, "There are no good memories here."

I'm sitting behind him, observing the interview from the backseat, as film producer Mark VanZevenbergen and director/cameraman Matt Torres capture the moment.

Along with fellow Rowan University students Bianca Beck and Joe Savin, they're making a 45-minute documentary, as yet untitled, about the bloody day and its enduring impact.

The crew has been shooting digital video at the Haddon Heights police station and elsewhere around town in recent weeks; the documentary must be finished by the end of the semester.

"Every time we talk to someone, they give us the names of five more people to talk to," says VanZevenbergen, 21, a senior from Plainsboro, Middlesex County. "We have a bunch of themes, [including] how a tragedy like this affects the community."

Twenty years ago, news coverage focused on the contrast between the picturesque Camden County borough and the sensational crime, as well as on Nelson's troubled past and transgender identity.

She pleaded guilty to killing Camden County investigator John McLaughlin, 38, and Heights patrolman John Norcross, 24, and is serving a life sentence at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, Hunterdon County.

The case "is still talked about with heavy emotion in Haddon Heights," says Beck, 24, of Washington Township. Adds Savin, 21, who grew up in Runnemede, "The story we're trying to tell, basically, is how people recover."

Rowan associate professor Diana Nicolae, who teaches the documentary class, notes that filmmakers don't know how a film is going to evolve after the process begins.

"To a certain degree, this is journalism," she says. "It's an investigation. I'm trying to cultivate [in students] the desire to find the truth, whatever it may be."

The Haddon Heights tragedy, adds Nicolae, raises issues of justice, the death penalty, and survivor's guilt: "Are there regrets, looking back?"

During a Feb. 27 interview, Norcross, 48, drove VanZevenbergen, Torres, and me around the borough, a stationary camera focused on him.

The affable father of three retired from law enforcement not long after the shootings, and now works for a technology firm.

Norcross and his family loved Haddon Heights but found it difficult to continue living there after the tragedy; they now live in Margate.

"I really, really enjoyed being a detective," Norcross says as we traverse the gently rolling grid of well-kept neighborhoods on the west side of the White Horse Pike.

We wind through Haddon Heights Park, and pass the handsome outdoor amphitheater now known as the Norcross-McLaughlin Memorial Dell several times before we arrive at Sylvan Drive.

Norcross has shared the story before, in court and elsewhere. But the filmmakers haven't heard it, and neither have I.

He and McLaughlin visited the house twice that day; the first time to investigate a complaint that Nelson had sexually molested a 3-year-old girl, and the second to serve a search warrant.

As he calmly describes how carnage erupted during a relatively routine effort to serve a search warrant, I'm struck by how much bravery police work requires.

McLaughlin got hit again and again at close range; Norcross' gun was blasted out of his hand as Nelson kept firing.

"I thought, 'I'm going to die on this ugly green carpet,' " Norcross recalls. "I thought, 'Don't go to sleep. Don't give up.' "

He didn't. Later, in intensive care, he discovered that his brother - who had responded to the scene after the initial shootings - had been killed.

"The hardest part for me," Norcross tells the filmmakers, "has always been my brother's death."

kriordan@phillynews.com

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