Det. Sgt. Christian Araujo did not boast when he talked last week about the events that won him honors for heroism. In fact, he seemed a little embarrassed by the attention, although the bullet wounds he suffered in his abdomen and his leg have yet to heal.
When he talked about the events leading up to an April 3 shootout in Jersey City Heights, he talked deliberately, spreading the credit to the group of Sheriff's Department officers, calling them "my guys."
Araujo was part of a complicated pursuit effort that started in Hoboken and ended up in the death of the Abraham Santiago, 28, of Jersey City, after Santiago allegedly wounded one cab driver and two police officers.
Because Det. Sgt. Araujo is a resident of Secaucus, the mayor and Town Council sought to honor him for his effort to continue pursuit even after he had been wounded twice.
"Det. Sgt. Araujo, during the pursuit of a carjacking suspect, was shot at and wounded," said Mayor Dennis Elwell in presenting Araujo with a plaque.
Although soft-spoken, Araujo recounted the events during an interview, detailing each stage of the event, relying on his memory of reports read later and his own memory.
Araujo, 29, married with two kids and a resident of Secaucus for two years, told The Reporter than the incident started in Hoboken over an argument over a taxi ride. Araujo did not get involved until the suspect got to Jersey City.
"The individual shot a taxi driver because [the cab driver] wouldn't take him up to Jersey City," Araujo said.
Santiago had jumped into a livery cab that had come to Washington Street to pick up two other people, according to Araujo. When Santiago refused to get out, the driver sought to get him out. Santiago allegedly pulled out a .45 caliber handgun and shot at him, just grazing the calves of his legs.
Later reports claimed Santiago then fled Washington Street, heading in the general direction of Jersey City Heights, making it to Adams Street in Hoboken where Hoboken Police Officer John Aguiar tried to question him. Santiago allegedly took out his gun and shot the police officer.
"The cop got hit twice, once in the chest, once in the shoulder," Araujo said. "Fortunately, the officer had a bulletproof vest on."
The Hoboken officer also managed to follow Santiago to Jefferson Street, where he reported Santiago getting into another vehicle.
"The subject carjacked a black Ford Explorer at gunpoint," Araujo said
The driver of the vehicle, a resident of North Bergen, was talking on his cellular telephone when Santiago allegedly pushed a gun into the window. The Hoboken police officer sent a description of the vehicle over the radio
"The alarm came over the radio so that our department heard the broadcast," said Undersheriff Frank Schillari, one of Araujo's superiors.
Araujo gets involved
Araujo heard the report about 8 p.m. while he was working, delivering warrants in Jersey City as part of his official duties.
Araujo recalled, "The broadcast said the vehicle was headed towards Jersey City Heights."
Araujo, driving his own vehicle while issuing warrants, drove towards the area.
Meanwhile, a sheriff's patrol car containing Det. Mark Bouchert and officers Mark Hennessey and Brian Lane apparently came upon an abandoned vehicle near Oakland Avenue in the lower Heights.
"My guy found the black Ford Explorer," Araujo said. "One of the officers stayed with the car."
Bouchert and Hennessey then found the suspect about a block away near Hopkins Avenue.
"They spotted the individual talking to a woman on the corner, which was his mother," Araujo said.
Santiago took out the gun and allegedly started shooting. At this point, Araujo showed up in his pickup truck and started to follow the suspect.
"I tried to get in front of him, and he shot at my car," he recalled.
Araujo jumped out and chased him on foot in what proved to be a running battle. Araujo and Bouchert frequently dove behind parked cars to avoid the hail of bullets.
At one point, Araujo thought Santiago had run out of ammunition and approached the suspect. Santiago allegedly fired the .45 straight at Araujo.
"I got struck in the stomach and in the leg," Araujo said. Fortunately, the bullet to his abdomen bounced off a muscle and exited his side. Araujo could still breathe, so he believed himself all right.
"At times like that, the adrenalin keeps you going," Undersheriff Schillari said. "You don't even realize you're hit until later."
Araujo said he was angry at the fact that the suspect had allegedly shot a cop in Hoboken and allegedly was shooting at people he worked with.
"My training kicked in. I got very angry and just lashed out," Araujo said. "This guy was shooting at my guys, and he didn't care about any human life. So I looked around to see that nobody else was around. Then I returned fire." Even with a wound in his leg, he continued the chase until they reached Baldwin and St. Paul's avenues, where Santiago collapsed, due to the police gunfire.
"He just fell," Araujo recalled. "It was just lucky no one else got hurt."
Araujo's voice lowered a little when talking about Santiago's death. He seems to have thought about that moment a lot since the event.
"He chose his own destiny," Araujo concluded.
Santiago's mother later told a local newspaper that her only son had been suffering from depression for some time.
"He's a very good officer," said Schillari, a retired sergeant from the Secaucus Police Department, referring to Araujo. "He's also very lucky."
Elwell, in presenting Araujo with a plaque, said people often do not realize the risk police officers take in doing their jobs.
"While we all have respect for the uniform, since Sept. 11 the uniform is something we pay a little more attention to," Elwell said. 'These men go about their day to day business doing their job. Sept. 11 has come and gone, and we go back to our way of life. We hope to feel safe and secure in our homes, and we are safe and secure to a degree because we have men and women in uniform who are out there protecting us. From time to time, as they are doing their job, they put their lives in jeopardy This is the case here, where Det. Sgt Chris Araujo put his life in jeopardy to apprehend a criminal. Sometimes it doesn't always work out that we can hand someone like this a plaque. Sometimes these officers give their lives. This is one of the reasons why we wanted to thank Chris."