The police officer shot to death early Friday in New Orleans East was 29-year-old Marcus McNeil, who leaves behind a wife and two children, according to authorities. 

McNeil's mother said she learned about her son's slaying shortly after it happened. She politely excused herself after a brief conversation with a reporter, saying, "I just need to be with my family." 

Authorities have released little information about the incident that left him dead. But they said McNeil and three of his colleagues were on some sort of patrol when they encountered a 30-year-old man who shot at them near the intersection of Tara Lane and Lake Forest Boulevard.

McNeil was struck several times and taken to University Medical Center, where he died. At least one officer shot the suspect, Darren Bridges, who hid in a nearby apartment before surrendering and being taken to the hospital himself. 

A man living near the scene of the shootings, Ronald Thomas, said he saw the violence, and he recalled gunfire erupting on the officers before they had even stepped out of at least one unmarked car. Thomas said he thought there could have been two unmarked cars on the scene, and it appeared the gunfire erupted after a traffic stop. 

"When the first two got out, he opened fire on them," Thomas recalled. "They didn't really have a chance ... because he fired on them before they could get the door open." 

New Orleans Magazine profiled McNeil as part of a story on a police recruit class that graduated on April 2, 2015. His wife, Brittiny, said in that story that her husband had "always wanted" to join NOPD because of his desire to make a difference in a city plagued with crime and poverty.

The story noted that Brittiny spoke as she held her and Marcus' newborn daughter, Camille, who was wrapped in a white-and-yellow blanket. The couple has two children, ages 2 and 5, NOPD said in a statement Friday. 

McNeil, who joined NOPD as a recruit in 2014, found success early in his career with the 7th Police District, which patrols New Orleans East. He was among four members of the district to win "officer of the month" honors in August 2016.

That was the month after McNeil formed part of a task force operation that resulted in the arrest of a former NOPD officer on allegations of selling marijuana out of a parked car in New Orleans East. 

His colleagues affectionately nicknamed him "Milk Dud," a moniker that was originally assigned to him by a man he had arrested while he was completing his field training with the department.

The suspect "was attempting to get a rise out of me by calling me 'Milk Dud' because of my shiny bald head that he believed resembled the candy milk duds," McNeil told the department's public information officer as part of an internal human interest feature. "Everyone (at work) found it hilarious, saying it was true and then began calling me 'Milk Dud.' I've since embraced the name often referring to myself as 'The Dud' when bragging about a good arrest.'"

Civil service records described him as a resident of Kenner. As of March, he was assigned to a task force in the 7th District. 

McNeil graduated from St. Augustine High School the earned a degree in accounting from Dillard University in 2010, according to his application to become a police officer.

That application also shows that McNeil had an unusual background for a cop: He interned with the Children’s Defense Fund from 2006 to 2011, then he worked as a banker at a First NBC Bank branch in Metairie.

McNeil's widow was with family members in Algiers and said she wasn't ready to speak about her husband. A niece of hers, who identified herself only as Evelyn, described him as "a great husband and dad." 

Gerald Fowler, who lives across the street from where McNeil grew up in the Castle Manor subdivision, said neighborhood residents referred to the slain lawman as "officer friendly." 

"You could talk to him," Fowler told WWL-TV. "He's not the type of person who's aggressive and would try to rough-house you," Fowler said. "It's a loss — a loss to his mother, a loss to his family, a loss to our neighborhood, a loss to our city. 

"We need more officers like him." 

Spokesmen for the city's two police unions said Friday's slaying was a sobering reminder of the perils of the profession. It was the fifth time a New Orleans police officer was killed in the line of duty since 2013, and McNeil was the third to be shot to death while working in the last nine years. 

"We as a community have to decide that this is unacceptable and figure out a solution to the violent crime problem that continues to plague our city," said Donovan Livaccari, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police.

Police Association of New Orleans Attorney Eric Hessler added, "It's all too common in the profession. These young men and women come onto this job knowing it's dangerous, but they serve anyways, and it's tragic when the worst does happen." 

The gun battle that claimed McNeil's life is under investigation by the police department's Force Investigation Team, which probes all shootings involving officers. Officials notified both the Independent Police Monitor as well as the team overseeing the implementation of court-mandated reforms to the department several years ago.

Late Friday morning, the department said it did not anticipate releasing any more information about McNeil's killing. It asked anyone with information about the slaying to call the department's Public Integrity Bureau at 504-658-6800.

Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this report. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.