More than 4,000 people packed a hockey arena in Maplewood today to pay their respects to the North St. Paul police officer killed in the line of duty on Monday.
Rick Crittenden was remembered as a father and brother, as a husband and a cop.
But mostly, he was remembered as a hero.
His former classmate and longtime friend, St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Wortman, could hardly finish his heartfelt, if irreverent, eulogy.
"You made all of us in law enforcement very, very proud," Wortman said. "Thank you, Rick, for letting me be your friend. I love you like a brother, Butt Munch. And I'll miss you. We'll all miss you. We'll all miss you so very, very much. But you'll never be forgotten."
The nine-year North St. Paul police officer died on Monday, shot in the head with his own gun. He'd gone to answer a domestic disturbance call in a ground-floor apartment.
Investigators say 34-year-old Devon Dockery jumped Crittenden as he and a Maplewood officer came through the apartment door. A struggle ensued; Dockery took Crittenden's gun from his holster and fired a single shot, killing him.
Maplewood police officer Julie Olson, who was assisting on the call, returned fire and killed Dockery in a hand-to-hand gun battle.
Authorities say Dockery may well have attacked his estranged wife, Stacey Terry, and her 15-year-old daughter, if Crittenden had not been there. Police say Dockery might have shot them, too, if not for Officer Olson's quick action.
The 90-minute service at Aldrich Arena touched occasionally on their courage. But much of the proceedings recalled the rest of Crittenden's life, from his birth in Riverside California, to his own brush with the law.
His sister, Frances Manen, recalled how as a teenager, her brother once lost his driver's license for drag racing in Denver.
"I think he was a big kid at heart and remained that way, even as an adult," she said. "So I think he understood that kids are kids, and wanted to help them, and give them the benefit of the doubt."
He was remembered, too, as a ready friend. His brother-in-law Pedro Salazar remembered the day he met Crittenden.
"When I first met him, I had my mom visiting us at the time, and I introduced him to my mom who spoke very little English, and understood very little English," Salazar said. "But by the end of the day, I could see Rick carrying on a conversation with her, like he'd known her for a long time."
Crittenden was also a Vietnam veteran and was known for sporting tight jeans, a giant belt buckle, cowboy boots and a rhinestone mobile phone holster in his off hours.
But he was remembered most of all for the 16 years of his life he spent in uniform, first as a sheriff's deputy in Wabasha County and then as a patrolman in North St. Paul.
His colleague, Charlie Kunkel, was one of more than 2,500 police officers from across the region on hand for the funeral. He delivered the most moving remembrance of the day.
Kunkel noted that Crittenden was the oldest member of the 18-officer, North St. Paul police force, and known affectionately as "Grandpa Rick."
"At 57 years old, he consistently led the police department in traffic and activity levels," Kunkel said. "I challenge anyone else to find someone else like that of his age. It was truly astounding."
Kunkel said his fellow officer's years of experience made his death even more bewildering.
"I would never have expected anything like this to happen to Rick," he said. "He was always so safety conscious and prepared. Who would ever thought Rick Crittenden would give the ultimate sacrifice? From your family at North St. Paul and all your brothers and sisters in law enforcement, good bye, rick. You have touched us all in one way or another. You've clearly left your mark on your community and your profession. I will miss you my friend. And I will miss you, my brother."
Crittenden leaves behind a son, a stepdaughter and his wife, Christine. They met when she was working as a volunteer with the Ramsey County Sheriff's water patrol, and later married.
Crittenden was cremated earlier this week, and his wife took home an urn with his ashes, so that they might one day be buried together.