An 18-year veteran of the New Castle County Police Department was stabbed to death early Friday while responding to a disorderly conduct call.

The officer has been identified as Sgt. Joseph Szczerba.

During a news conference Friday afternoon, Colonel Michael McGowan said Szczerba saw the suspect around midnight near the intersection of East Roosevelt Avenue and Fithian Drive. Szczerba chased the suspect and when he caught up with him a struggle ensued. That's when, McGowan said, the suspect fatally stabbed the 44-year-old officer. Col. McGowan told reporters when other officers arrived on scene, the suspect "continued to actively resist" arrest until police were finally able to handcuff him. Three additional officers, according to police, suffered minor injuries as a result. 

Meanwhile, McGowan said several other officers performed CPR on Sgt. Szczerba, who was pronounced dead after arriving at Christiana Hospital.

As for the suspect, whose identity remains unknown at this time, is in police custody. Col. McGowan did say the suspect was linked to an earlier car theft and assault on a 45-year-old victim who tried to stop him. McGowan says the 45-year-old sustained minor injuries.

Spokesman for the department, Cpl. John Weglarz says this is first New Castle County police officer killed in the line of duty since 1972. The last officer murdered in the line of duty was Officer Chad Spicer in Georgetown in September 2009.

Officer's death prompts tributes

U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a former New Castle County President knew Officer Szczerba. 

“Joe Szczerba was a good person and a great police officer, and I was shocked and deeply saddened to get the call that he had been murdered in the line of duty late last night. Annie and I are heartbroken by the loss. His wife and extended family, as well as the entire New Castle County Police Department, will be in our thoughts, in our prayers, and in our hearts as they cope with this tragic loss," said in a statement.

Coons' successor, New Castle County President Paul Clark, was notified overnight of the incident. 

"It was with extreme shock, sadness and regret that I learned of the senseless killing of one of our county police officers in the line of duty. I met with members of his family, conveyed my profound condolences to them and assured them of my prayers and support in the difficult days ahead. My deepest sympathies go out to the family, to his fellow officers, and to all who knew him" Clark said in a statement.

"For 18 years, Officer Joe Szczerba carried out his duties to protect and serve the people of New Castle County, and today we mourn the senseless loss of this true Delaware hero. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and fellow officers as they grieve this unimaginable tragedy," said U.S. Senator Tom Carper. "Though he is gone, we will never forget his life of service and sense of duty. Joe Szczerba represented the best of Delaware's police force... All across Delaware, officers put their lives on the line each day to uphold that belief. And as we remember Officer Szczerba, let us pray and give thanks for all those who wear the badge in selfless service to our friends and neighbors."

Governor Jack Markell echoed those statements.  He said it's hard to know the grief the family is going through.  He pointed to the sacrifice made by all police officers.  "If some citizens do not take the time to fathom the strength, courage and commitment that propel our brave men and women in law enforcement, it is because law enforcement's bravery frees them from having to think about it. This reminds us that so many serve each day, putting themselves at risk for all of us," Markell's statement read.

Congressman John Carney and Senator Tom Carper also expressed condolences to the family and the New Castle County Police.  Carney talked about his connectiono the Szczerba family through sports and other community activities.

Attorney General Beau Biden attended Friday afternoon's news conference inside the New Castle County Public Safety Building. He issued the following statement:

“Sergeant Szczerba lost his life serving his community and protecting his neighbors. This tragedy reminds us of the sacrifices law enforcement officers make every time they come to work, having made the choice to put the public's safety above their own. We also owe a deep debt of gratitude to their families for sharing those sacrifices. My office will work nonstop to ensure that anyone responsible for the death of this dedicated public servant is held responsible for this senseless crime, and we will do everything we can to ensure that Sgt. Szczerba's loved ones have the support and services they need.”

Wilmington Manor is a quiet neighborhood

The Penn Acres neighborhood is filled with 1960's styled colonial homes.  It is bordered on one side by the George Reed Middle School and on another by Wilmington University.  William Penn High School is less than a half mile away.  Neighbors say there is hardly any crime and certainly nothing like what happened overnight. 

School buses traveled throughout the neighborhood Friday morning as people tried to go about their business.  A three-block area was closed off as police continued their investigation into the late morning.

Check in with www.newsworks.org/delaware throughout the day for updates.