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

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Star Tribune 2024

A casket representing the fallen is moved into Grace Church before the start of a memorial service for Burnsville police officers Paul Elmstrand, 27, Matthew Ruge, 27, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, 40, at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP, Pool)

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Three Minnesota first responders who were gunned down while responding to a report of a domestic incident at a home with seven children inside 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 police Officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, both 27, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, 40, were slain. Investigators say Shannon Gooden, 38, opened fire on them without warning during a standoff at his home, then later killed himself.

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Sgt. Adam Medlicott, 38, who was wounded but survived, 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.

“You can’t reason with evil,” he said.

Medlicott went on to say that he didn't know Finseth as well. “But I saw you run into the line of fire to save me and my guys. You’re the bravest person I’ve ever known. I will be forever thankful.”

Brad Finseth, the firefighter's father, paid tribute to the three with a reading from the Gospel of John: "No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.”

Burnsville Police Chief Tanya Schwartz expressed gratitude for “the support we have received from our brothers and sisters in blue, brown, maroon and every other color that I see in this space,” as well as the hundreds of public safety personnel who stood at attention outside the hospital to honor the three.

“They did the job selflessly, with integrity, honor and courage," she said. "They knew the dangers, but it never deterred them. On February 18th, they paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to protect children. Their bravery and willingness to put themselves before others is why the word ‘hero’ is now synonymous with each of their names.”

Officer Pete Mueller, who trained with Ruge as a crisis negotiator and was at the scene, revealed that Ruge brought a wounded Elmstrand to safety, even though he had been injured himself.

“Ruge repeatedly risked his life to save our friend," he said. "And in doing so, Matt made the ultimate sacrifice.”

And Burnsville Fire Chief B.J. Jungmann said Finseth was drawn to “honorable professions,” noting that he began his career in the Army, where he served two tours in Iraq, and that he never sought glory, but to serve.

“I can say without reservation, firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth was tried, he was tested and he was found worthy,” he said. “Adam died helping his comrades without a second thought.”

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.

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.”

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.

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is leading the investigation, police were dispatched to the home around 1:50 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 18. Gooden refused to leave but said he was unarmed and that he had children inside. Officers entered and negotiated with him for about 3 1/2 hours to try to persuade him to surrender. But just before 5:30 a.m., the BCA says, Gooden opened fire on officers inside without warning.

The BCA said Elmstrand and Ruge, and Medlicott are believed to have been first shot inside the home. Medlicott and another officer, who was not injured, returned fire from inside the home, wounding Gooden in the leg.

Ruge and Medlicott were shot a second time as officers made their way to an armored vehicle in the driveway, according to the BCA. Finseth, who was assigned to the SWAT team, was shot while trying to aid the officers, it said. Elmstrand, Ruge and Finseth were pronounced dead at a hospital.

The BCA said Gooden had “several firearms” and shot more than 100 rounds before killing himself. A court document filed by a BCA agent said the initial 911 call was “regarding an alleged sexual assault allegation.” Authorities have not provided further details about that.

Court records show Gooden wasn’t legally allowed to have guns because of his criminal record and had been entangled in a yearslong dispute over his three oldest children. The children in the house were ages 2 to 15 years.