Carmen DeGregorio, a retired police officer from Millville, was killed after stopping a man who was trying to shove a woman into the trunk of a car in 2007. Today, he was posthumously honored with a Carnegie medal for heroism.
A fitting honor for a true hero. Here's a Dec. 7, 2007, editorial I wrote for The Press after the incident happened:
CARMEN DEGREGORIO / Uncommon valor
According to Officer Down Memorial Page Inc. (www.odmp.org), 161 law-enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty in the United States so far this year. Police officers, it is often said, go to work each day knowing that they may not return home safely.
Retired police officers aren't supposed to have such worries.
Search the Web for "police officer killed," and the grim national tally comes immediately to your screen. Put the word "retired" in your search, and Carmen DeGregorio is at the top of the list.
What happened to this retired, 25-year veteran of the Millville Police Department simply doesn't happen very often. No doubt because most people, and perhaps most retired officers, would not have done what DeGregorio did in the early morning hours of Nov. 27 outside a Millville Wawa. We can say with certainty that we would not have done what this retired officer did. Would you?
Funeral services for the 51-year-old married father of twin teenage girls were held Thursday.
DeGregorio, who was now working nights for a towing company, saw a man trying to force a woman into the trunk of a car. The retired officer could have called 911. He could have looked away, figuring someone else would do something.
But he didn't.
Instead, DeGregorio, who survived a heart attack before he retired in 2004, confronted Christopher Robinson, who at 30 was 21 years younger than the ex-cop. DeGregorio pulled the 24-year-old woman, Shatora Jenkins-Thomas, from Robinson's grasp. The former officer then quickly ushered her into the store to safety.
He could have stopped right there.
But he didn't.
With Jenkins-Thomas in the Wawa, DeGregorio ran toward the store's gas pumps, trying to distract her attacker. But DeGregorio never made it to safety. Robinson allegedly ran the car into him, sending DeGregorio flying into the air, then slamming into the pavement. He died of head injuries some 38 hours later.
One other thing that Carmen DeGregorio did not do: As a retired police officer, he was permitted to carry a gun and was armed at the time. But he never fired it. DeGregorio, said acting Millville Police Chief Tom Riley, was too good a cop to fire a weapon when there appeared to be other alternatives.
DeGregorio's selflessness speaks for itself. There is little we can add. Mere words are simply not up to the task of acknowledging such bravery.
Millville mourns today. DeGregorio grew up in the city. Everyone knew him. But they had no way of knowing what an uncommon man he would be on a November night, more than three years into retirement, in a Wawa parking lot.