Grief, manhunt follow death of honored officer

Police find car linked to shooting

February 09, 2000|By Dan Thanh Dang and Nancy A. Youssef | Dan Thanh Dang and Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF WRITERS

Bruce A. Prothero was supposed to have been off that day. He was supposed to have been home with his wife, playing with his 4-year-old triplets and waiting for his daughter to come home from school.

Instead, as a favor, the 35-year-old Baltimore County police sergeant put on a suit and tie Monday morning and drove to his part-time job as a security guard at J. Brown Jewelers in Pikesville.

That was just Prothero's way. Always be helpful. Go the extra mile.

And as the father of five young children, Prothero could use an extra day's pay.

But on Monday, he was gunned down by robbers at the jewelry store.

Prothero, who was not wearing a bulletproof vest, was killed trying to get a description of a 1984 Oldsmobile Delta 88 as four men drove off. Police said they recovered that vehicle late last night.

"We have . . . the vehicle that was used in the incident," said Maj. Rustin Price, commander of the county's criminal investigation division. Price would not say exactly when or where the Oldsmobile was found.

Police continued their statewide manhunt today for the robbers.

Yesterday, family and friends recalled Prothero's widow, Ann, asking in disbelief after her husband died at Sinai Hospital: "How do you tell your children that the best dad in the whole world won't be coming home we've worked so hard for this family. How could this happen to us?"

The mood at county police headquarters in Towson and the nine surrounding precincts was somber.

Photos of his children and drawings they made remained untouched on Prothero's desk in Woodlawn, where he spent the last couple years of his career. Black bunting was draped outside the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters in Carney and the precincts; officers wore black bands across their badges in memory of their colleague.

Last night, family members, police and county officials placed a wreath of blue and white roses at the base of a 10-foot-high memorial in front of the Baltimore County Courthouse.

Metro Crime Stoppers, the county and other statewide FOPs offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers. Detectives in every unit -- and most of the homicide detectives -- volunteered their time, some working 24 hours straight.

"It is an attack on the institution of law enforcement," said county Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, who returned to Towson yesterday from a conference in Hawaii after learning about the shooting.

"It has been a traumatic event."

No suspects have been named in the shooting.

At the jewelry store, an Eldersburg contractor said yesterday that he was replacing a section of wall that was struck by a bullet during Monday's robbery, which began about 11: 15 a.m. when at least two men entered the store and displayed a gun.

The men grabbed some jewelry and ran out the door, police said. Prothero, who had taken the shift to fill in for a security guard who could not work, chased them.

He was shot twice in a side parking lot and died 45 minutes later.

Prothero was the fifth county police officer to die in the line of duty in the department's 126-year history.

"Bruce's death has devastated our family," said eldest brother Rick Prothero, 47, as he clutched the hand of his wife, Luann, after a news conference yesterday at FOP headquarters. "We haven't even been able to start thinking about the investigation yet because we're still dealing with the disbelief of it all. He turned into a real fine man."

Bruce Prothero grew up in Rockville, the youngest of three brothers and four sisters.

College took him to Towson University, where he found his love for criminal justice. A year after graduating from the Baltimore County Police Academy in 1987, he married Ann, his high school sweetheart, and they began planning the large family they always wanted.

Shortly after his 6-year-old daughter, Holly, was born -- "A miracle from God," he called her -- Prothero decided he needed a second job. The extra money would come in especially handy two years later when the triplets -- Parker, Andrew and Kimberly -- were born. Daughter Hannah came along two years ago.

Family members described Bruce Prothero as a loving brother and a dedicated father. Colleagues said he was a popular supervisor who treated his officers like family.

The Rev. Frank Trotter, the family pastor, described Prothero as a man with a strong faith.

"He loved his job. He loved being a policeman," said Trotter, senior pastor at Reisterstown United Methodist Church. "He thought about stopping his moonlighting job once, but he said his police salary wasn't enough.

"I worried about him a lot. I told him, `Bruce, you need to take care of yourself.' "

It was something his family told him, too. As with any police officer's spouse, Ann Prothero worried often about his safety not just while he was on duty, but also while he worked at J. Brown, Rick Prothero recalled yesterday.

They had reason to worry.

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