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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

Burnsville Fire Capt. Brandon Johannsen talked of Finseth as "one of the most selfless individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing," and a man of integrity, honor and kindness in a world of cynicism. "He reminded us all that strength is not found in force or aggression, but the quiet courage to stand up for what is right, even when difficult."

Inside the church, laughter at times briefly relieved the grief but the message remained poignant. Medlicott had supervised both police officers. Once, Elmstrand and Medlicott were responding to a theft in progress at a Macy's. Outside the main entrance was an unoccupied vehicle. "Look!" Elmstrand shouted. "It's the go-away vehicle!"

"It's a getaway car, Paul," Medlicott responded in disbelief.

More recently, he said Elmstrand, a bright and thoughtful officer, considered applying for a sergeant position. He would have made a great one, Medlicott said. In another instance, he was dispatched with Ruge to a call of a young woman who was supposed to start an addiction program that day but refused to leave her closet. Reasoning with the woman was a "disaster," he said.

"After the call, Matt walked up to me and said, 'Thanks, Adam. Man, I really F'd that one up. He used the real word though." He then forwarded to Feb. 18 when he was standing next to Ruge as he negotiated with the man who would eventually take his life.

"You can't reason with evil. You didn't F this one up, Matt," Medlicott said. He acknowledged he didn't know Finseth as well and didn't have any stories to share, "But I saw you run into the line of fire to save me and my guys. You are the bravest guy I have ever known."

 

Burnsville Deputy Police Chief Matt Smith spoke of how Elmstrand had been named to the prestigious state honor guard for fallen police officers weeks before his own death. He highlighted what a joy it was to work with him and his infectious laugh: "It's been said that perhaps the favorite comedian to induce this laugh was … Paul."

Burnsville police officer Pete Mueller, hired at the same time as Ruge, spoke of a young cop who took as many calls as possible. Ruge's calm demeanor and authenticity made him a perfect fit for the crisis negotiation team, which was deployed the morning of Feb. 18 to respond to the explosive domestic violence call: "He was extraordinarily heroic that morning. He negotiated for several hours, which bought us time. In law enforcement, we know time is our friend. The time he delivered brought countless resources to the scene, which protected many of us."

Near the end of the service, bagpipes played "Amazing Grace." Tears flowed freely, especially among officers from western Wisconsin. Three Wisconsin law enforcement officers were killed last year. Gov. Tim Walz and former Gov. Mark Dayton sat amid thousands of police officers and firefighters.

Outside the church, a phalanx of police stood at solemn attention, each clutching a single blue- or red-tipped white rose. A volley of rifle fire broke the frigid silence. In unison, thousands of officers and first responders raised their arms in a final salute before a rendition of Taps.

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