BRIDGETON — A resident who friends and neighbors said worked to improve his community was shot and killed Monday night during what authorities are calling a home invasion. Enrique Santiago was fatally shot as he confronted the lone gunman, who forced his way through the front door of Santiago’s home in one half of a duplex in the 200 block of South Avenue about 9 p.m., city police said.
“I just heard a boom, boom, boom and people hollering,” said Dolores Armistead, who lives in the duplex’s other residence.
Santiago, 44, died later at Inspira Medical Center Vineland, said Capt. Michael Gaimari of the Bridgeton Police Department.
Several of Santiago’s family members were in the home when the shooting occurred, but none were injured, said Gaimari, who provided no details on who else lives in the house. Neighbors said they believed Santiago lived with at least his wife and child.
Police said they were searching for the man who shot the 44-year-old Santiago. They said the man might also be connected to another home invasion that occurred just prior to Santiago’s shooting, and the armed robbery of a woman on Sunday night. No one was injured in those incidents, which also occurred on South Avenue, police said.
Police are identifying the suspect as about 6 feet tall with a thin build, and wearing a black mask, black sweat jacket and dark pants. City police, who are investigating the shooting along with the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, are asking residents to help them locate suspects.
“Our department is only as strong as the residents it protects and serves,” Gaimari said. “These victims are your neighbors and the suspects may be as well, so any assistance, even the smallest detail, may be of the utmost importance.”
Monday’s shooting shocked those who knew Santiago and his family.
“They are good people,” said Armistead, who stood on her porch Tuesday and looked at the small lawn on which Santiago placed spooky Halloween characters and fall flowers. “They are all so nice.”
Vineland resident Randall Hadley said he lived in the house across the street from Santiago for about 50 years. Hadley said he saw Santiago on Sunday as he was visiting his mother, who still lives in the house.
“Good person,” Hadley said. “Hard-working. Considerate.”
Hadley pointed to the decorations on Santiago’s front yard, and said Santiago also worked hard to clean up and improve his back yard. Those efforts were noticed by nearby residents, who started cleaning up their properties, he said.
“He was a community leader,” Hadley said.
Hadley said he also worked with Santiago at Omni Bakery in Vineland until Santiago left the company some time around Christmas. Santiago was an excellent employee who others looked up to, he said.
“He was a team leader,” Hadley said.
According to Gaimari, the other home invasion occurred in the 200 block of South Avenue, just north of where Santiago lived. A person kicked in the front door, waved a handgun at a 33-year-old woman and took a “significant” amount of cash and a cell phone, he said. The robber then fled on foot, he said.
Sunday’s armed robbery occurred about 10 p.m. in the 100 block of South Avenue, Gaimari said. A 36-year-old woman was robbed at gunpoint by a man who matched the description of the person involved in Santiago’s shooting, he said.
Gaimari said while crime is “down considerably” in the city this year, police are dealing with a “significant rash of robberies” since the beginning of the year in the north end of the municipality, and several home invasions in its south end.
“We have directed all of our efforts to these areas through increased patrols, special robbery details and modification of hours and resources, and have made at least a half dozen robbery arrests over that time period,” he said.
State Police statistics show the city had 1,532 incidents of homicide, rape, robbery, assault, simple assault, burglary, larceny, theft and motor vehicle theft through September. That represents a more than 7 percent increase in those offenses from January through September of 2012, the statistics show.
Armistead said Santiago’s slaying has convinced her to look for somewhere else to live.
“I’m trying to move on out of here,” she said.
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