PHOENIX — Heroic. Absolutely heroic.
A colleague used those words to describe the last moments of Phoenix police Detective John Hobbs’ life.
“We’re talking about an officer who got shot and doesn’t give up the fight,” police spokesman Steve Martos said.
Already mortally wounded and with his partner down, Hobbs managed to return fire at the fugitive who’d shot him and is believed to have killed the fugitive.
It was the final act of bravery for a man who’d spent the last seven years of his 21-year career tracking down the worst of the worst violent offenders.
Hobbs, who died Monday of gunshot wounds he suffered after trying to apprehend a man on an attempted-murder warrant, was part of a unit described as one of the “special forces” of the Police Department: the Major Offenders Unit.
Another detective, a 43-year-old, nine-year veteran, was shot and underwent emergency surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. His family asked that his name not be released.
Martos said that to test into the offenders unit, an officer must have the ability to conduct surveillance and know how to track people down.
“The entire unit is motivated, and they are certainly knowledgeable and well-respected,” Martos said. “They want to help â€¦ they want to catch the bad guys.”
And that sums up Hobbs, 43, who was married and had three young children.
Sean Mattson, president of the 500-member Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association, was close friends with Hobbs and his wife, Cathy, for 17 years.
Mattson said he was relatively new to the department and joined a squad on the city’s south side, where Hobbs, who was older, worked as second-in-command.
“He kind of took me under his wing and taught me,” Mattson said. “I was a little cocky, had a chip on my shoulder. He kind of calmed me down a lot.”
Mattson said Hobbs, who had also worked in the department’s narcotics division and other undercover assignments, had a way with people that made him a good police officer and a great friend.
He was able to comfort victims while also being able to chat up informants and suspects to obtain the vital information needed to make big busts, Mattson said.
“John just looked to shoot the crap with everybody,” he said. “Having the gift to make people comfortable around you was an asset.”
As a young officer, Hobbs was involved in what was reported as the biggest drug bust in state history at the time. Hobbs and two other officers were responding to a burglary on May 5, 1999, when they discovered $500 million worth of Colombian cocaine.
The officers went into the backyard and found two men walking out of the house carrying boxes used for home appliances.
“There was like a half-dozen of those boxes, just to give you a visualization,” Mattson said.
The bricks of cocaine literally weighed a ton, according to police.
Mattson said Hobbs was highly decorated, and his unit received the Police Chief’s Unit award from Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia in 2013 for overall outstanding work.
“It was presented to them like a month and a half ago,” Mattson said. “This group â€¦ that he’s part of has done such good work taking violent offenders off the street, the chief decided to give it to them.”
The Major Offenders Unit is geared at targeting violent criminals, Martos said. The unit chases those with felony warrants for homicides, shootings, aggravated assaults and child crimes.
Martos said Hobbs spent some time doing undercover work before joining the unit, where he had worked for seven years.
“He was an absolute nice guy â€¦ one that would stop you in the hallway,” Martos said. “I cannot think of one bad thing that anyone would say about him.”
Retired Phoenix police Officer Lisa Wilson Carnahan said she knew Hobbs as one of the three musketeers in the department.
“He was funny, loving and let the people around him know they were special to him in their own individual way,” she wrote in an online memorial book. “He was exemplary as a person, police officer and friend. He had a heart of gold and would do just about anything for anybody.”
By Tuesday evening, more than 230 people â€” many of whom had never met Hobbs and from as far away as Texas, Connecticut and South Dakota â€” used the online remembrance book to herald Hobbs as a hero and thank him for his service.
Steven Durette, who said he knew Hobbs from childhood and high school, said the young Hobbs was into firearms, Lamborghinis, the military and martial arts. “He always wanted to do the right thing and was a very good person,” Durette said.
Hobbs was an active fixture around his family-friendly Surprise neighborhood, neighbor James Brenn said.
Brenn said he met first met Hobbs in December 2012 and described him as “vigilant, caring and observant.
“He’s the best kind of neighbor you could have,” he said. “He was welcoming to us, to the neighborhood.”
Another neighbor, Nick Arcan, said he would often see Hobbs in his garage watching his children play.
“I can’t even say the number of times my daughter has fallen and gotten a boo-boo, and he took her inside and washed her and bandaged her up,” Arcan said.
He said Hobbs’ two sons are both polite and respectful.
“It’s just the way he brought them up,” Arcan said. “The respect they show for others, you can just tell what a good father he was.”
Contributing: Matthew Casey and D.S. Woodfill of The Republic