Sgt. Joe Harris of the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department was…
Updated: Friday, 17 Jul 2009, 11:35 AM MDT
Published : Thursday, 16 Jul 2009, 11:55 PM MDT
LA CUEVA, N.M. (KRQE) - There is an outpouring of both sorrow and affection for a popular lawman felled by a bullet during a mountain burglary stakeout far from medical help.
The burglar's bullet fatally wounded Sandoval County Sheriff's Sgt. Joe Harris before dawn Thursday at a remote cabin in the Jemez Mountains northwest of Albuquerque.
He and his partner, Deputy Teresa Moriarty, had been doing surveillance on four nearby cabins hoping to capture a man who's been breaking into homes and cabins for years. The burglar still has not been identified.
It's not clear whether the suspect brought the gun with him or got one when he arrived at the cabin.
The remoteness of the site may have played a role in the deputy's death. Sources told KRQE News 13 that a bullet hit Harris in the leg severing an artery. Medical help could not get there quickly enough, and he was pronounced dead about two hours later after being airlifted to an Albuquerque hospital.
Law enforcement swarmed the small community of La Cueva after the shooting. People in the area call the burglar the Cookie Bandit because of what he steals.
"Comes in mostly for canned goods, groceries, booze," long-time resident Morris Rane told News 13.
Rane said the Cookie Bandit has been burglarizing homes and cabins up for nearly a decade.
"He doesn't hit any particular area," Rane continued. "He hits all of them."
No one knows yet who he was, but one homeowner who caught him in the act of burglarizing his cabin several years ago managed to get a very good picture of him. The man got away that day because he implied he had a gun and the homeowner decided to back off
"He really has caused a lot of problems for a lot of people for a lot of time," merchant Ray Andersen said.
That homeowner was smart because Thursday the burglar did have a gun. According to New Mexico State Police it was about 4:45 a.m. when the Cookie Bandit stepped into the trap laid by Harris and Moriarty.
"They heard the window open," State Police Lt. Eric Garcia told News 13. "They confronted him."
But something went terribly wrong. Bullets started flying with both officers and the burglar engaged in the gun battle.
Forensics experts will have to determine whose bullets killed the bandit, but State Police said the burglar's gunfire definitely killed Harris.
"He wanted to catch this perp who was terrifying the people up in Jemez Springs," Cathy Gaarden, a friend of Harris acting as the family spokesperson, said. Harris died the way lived, "serving our community, serving our country," she said at an afternoon news conference.
The Cookie Bandit was one of the five most-wanted crooks in Sandoval County. Investigators now have his fingerprints and are hoping to finally discover who he is.
Moriarty was not injured in the shooting. A mix of police officers posted an honor guard at the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque where Harris's body lies.
Harris had been with the Sandoval County department for 6 1/2
years. He had returned to law enforcement after retiring from
the Rio Rancho Police Department after 20 years of service.