Three slain Minnesota first responders honored as heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice

Some laughs and many tears during a memorial service for first responders

Thousands paid their respects to three men who died in the line of duty in Burnsville.

Law enforcement and firefighters from our region headed South on Wednesday to honor three first responders who where killed in the line of duty on February 18. Across the state and country, many showed support for the Burnsville Public Safety family.

It was an emotional service honoring the three fallen heroes, Officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, both 27, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, 40.

The three Minnesota first responders were gunned down while responding to a report of a domestic incident at a home with seven children inside. They were remembered at a memorial service Wednesday as heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville has been in mourning in the week and a half since the first responders were slain. According to investigators, Shannon Gooden, 38, opened fire on the three men without warning during a standoff at his home. Gooden later killed himself.

At the Memorial Service, the true focus of what everyone was feeling was summed up by the Burnsville Fire Chief, BJ Jungmann.

“The truest heroes don’t choose to die. They choose to live a life where facing death is a possibility, driven by the love that compels them to protect others,” Chief Jungmann said.

Officer Matt Ruge, was a crisis negotiator and had been talking to the suspect for hours before the man started shooting.

“Furthermore, when the unthinkable happened, Matt brought his partner Paul to safety. Although he was hurt himself,” Burnsville’s Officer Pete Mueller said during the service. “And Ruge repeatedly risked his life to save our friend, and in doing so, Matt made the ultimate sacrifice. It is unacceptable that Matt did not go home that morning.”

The ‘Paul’ Officer Mueller was referring to, is Officer Paul Elmstrand. Officer Elmstrand had just found out that he had been selected to be part of the honor guard for services just like this one.

“He (Paul) wanted to provide unwavering support to families, all the families of the fallen,” Chief Tanya Schwartz, of the Burnsville Police said. “The irony of that is not lost on me.”

A man who tried to save them both, Tactical Paramedic Adam Finseth.

“I saw you run into the line of fire to save me and my guys,” Sgt. Adam Medlicott said. “You are the bravest person I have ever known. I will be forever thankful.” Medlicott was wounded in the incident. He recalled with humor how Elmstrand, as a rookie, once referred excitedly to a getaway car as a “go-away vehicle.” And he told how an inexperienced Ruge didn’t know what to say on a call when a young woman in crisis resisted going to addiction treatment, and admitted afterward that he messed up. But he said Ruge grew as an officer and was “doing an amazing job” as a crisis negotiator on the day he was killed.

Finseth’s fire family tried to emulate his integrity in their grief.

“You are the best of us,” Captian Johannsen of the Burnsville Fire Department said. “We love you. We miss you. We promise to take care of the family and each other. Your legacy and impact will live on forever.”

The service, which drew thousands of law enforcement officers, paramedics and firefighters, was held at the nondenominational Grace Church in suburban Eden Prairie, one of the largest churches in the Minneapolis area. Because of the overflow crowd, officials had encouraged the public to watch the livestream from home or at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville.

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As the service concluded, officials held a ceremonial “last call,” calling out the badge numbers for the three as if they were being called by radio, then announcing to “all units” that Elmstrand, Ruge and Finseth had answered their final call.

“These men responded together, laid down their lives for one another and died doing what they were called to do,” the mourners heard. “The citizens of Burnsville will forever be in their debt, and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

“God Bless us as we heal and grow and grieve and expresss ourselves to God and to our friends,” Chaplain Mark Patrick prayed. “As we do, we realize that we are not alone. That we can make it.”

A procession of squad cars, fire trucks and ambulances with flashing lights, and three hearses, headed from the Eden Prairie church after the service to Burnsville on a 21-mile (34-kilometer) route past a fire station, police headquarters and the Burnsville church. Officials encouraged people to line the route to pay their respects. Aerial video showed that many did, with large flag-waving crowds at several spots along the way.

Authorities have made only limited information about the incident public, citing the ongoing investigation.