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'Nothing could be more honorable:' Fallen Minnesota police officers and firefighter mourned in massive ceremony

Reid Forgrave, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Standing at the podium, Burnsville police Sgt. Adam Medlicott thanked the uniformed crowd inside the massive suburban church for paying tribute to the colleagues who were by his side when they answered their final call.

They were there to honor the men's sacrifice: Badge 183, for police officer Matthew Ruge, a 27-year-old who'd recently joined the department's crisis negotiation team. Badge 83, for firefighter and paramedic Adam Finseth, a 40-year-old Army veteran with a wife and two elementary school-aged kids. And badge 176, for police officer Paul Elmstrand, a 27-year-old who'd yearned to be a cop since his youth, married with two young children.

They were heroes, Medlicott said, cut down in their prime responding to a domestic violence call where seven children's lives were at risk. Medlicott, who also was shot, was there to talk about the virtue of the shared mission that led them to their deadly encounter two Sundays ago:

"Elmstrand, Ruge, Finseth, we were there for seven children," he said. "Nothing could be more honorable. Rest easy, brothers."

More than 10,000 mourners gathered to honor the first responders at both Eden Prairie's Grace Church and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church to the east in Burnsville, where the service was streamed to accommodate overflow crowds. Another 23,000 viewed a livestream. It was perhaps the largest such law enforcement memorial service in state history, followed by an hourslong, 21-mile procession in which community members withstood the frigid weather to honor the fallen.

Among those who turned out to show their support was Laurie Boeser of Burnsville, who had visited the massive and ever-growing memorial at the police station before coming to pay her respects at Prince of Peace. Having a son who is 27, the same age as Elmstrand and Ruge, she lamented how much of their lives were still ahead of them.

 

"Life's just beginning, and these young families are ruined for no reason," she said. "Tears continue to flow. This is something that our community has never experienced, as far as I can remember."

Even in the best of times, police officers, firefighters and paramedics work in the most stressful professions. In these times — with America's drug and gun epidemics, with COVID having upended society and deepened a mental health crisis, not to mention hostility toward law enforcement since George Floyd's murder — that stress is compounded. A Burnsville police chaplain even used the memorial service to put out a plea for young people to join these professions of public service.

That stress, and the omnipresent fear of danger, makes the fraternity ironclad. Listening to speaker after speaker during the two-hour memorial service, that bond was clear.

"Over the past week we have seen the worst and the best of what the law enforcement calling brings," said Burnsville Police Chief Tanya Schwartz. "The worst began on Feb. 18 with the loss of these heroes. As I struggled to make sense of what happened that morning, I was reminded that Paul, Matt and Adam were doing what they were called to do, which was protecting those in harm's way."

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