Fallen officer Matthew Ruge remembered for his life of service, kindness

A group of people stand on a stage.
Logan Marquez, right, and Ty Gaedtke, left, share memories of officer Matthew Ruge during a candlelight vigil on Wednesday under the Bridge at Heritage Park in Wabasha. Ruge was fatally shot while on duty early morning Sunday.
Maya Giron | Post Bulletin

By Rebecca Mitchell, Post Bulletin

As a classmate, brother and friend to many in the Wabasha community, Matthew Ruge looked for ways to help people every day, from inviting a new friend over for a sleepover to pulling a stalled pontoon back to shore and sharing kindness with person after person.

“He did a lot of good and I’m just hurt to see he won’t be around to do any more good because I know he had a lot more in his heart was full of it,” former classmate and friend Logan Marquez said. “All we can we do is just remember … all the good he did accomplish while he was here with us, and there was a lot he did.”

Officer Ruge, a 2015 Wabasha-Kellogg Public School graduate and MSU Mankato graduate, was one of three first responders shot and killed while responding to a domestic call in Burnsville on Sunday morning, Feb. 18, 2024.

Burnsville officer Paul Elmstrand and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, a Rochester native and John Marshall High School graduate, were also killed. Police officer Adam Medlicott was injured and later released from the hospital on Monday, according to the city of Burnsville.

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“I know there is no greater burden than to bear the loss of a friend, colleague or loved one in service to their community,” Wabasha City Administrator Caroline Gregerson shared with first responders during a community candlelight vigil on Wednesday, Feb. 21 in Wabasha. “They are serving for a purpose far greater than themselves. They along with the first responders that died are our heroes.”

Ruge served on the crisis negotiations team after joining the Burnsville Police Department in April 2020. During the domestic call on Sunday, law enforcement negotiators spoke with Shannon Cortez Gooden, who later fatally shot the three men, for an extended period of time. Gooden was barricaded inside his home with family, including seven children. He died by suicide from a gunshot wound to the head, according to a news release from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.

While shining a light on Ruge’s kindness, Wabasha-Kellogg community members and first responders recognized him as a hero. Though, Ruge was quick to humbly and quietly serve with “passion and kindness,” which was an inspiration to many, as former Wabasha-Kellogg Superintendent Jim Freihammer said.

Ruge started with the desire to serve as a police officer at a young age, friends said. Marquez described his role as an officer as fitting for his personality, “he wants to be in a position where he can help people wherever he can every day for a living.” Ruge is the son of Christi Henke and Sean Ruge and brother of Hannah Ruge.

Through his years growing up in Reads Landing and attending Wabasha-Kellogg Public Schools, Ruge enjoyed concerts, adventures, sports and playing games. Former classmate and friend Ty Gaedtke said Ruge was “willing to drop everything to help you out or even if you just wanted to hang out.”

“It really shows a lot about Matt, how good of a friend he was,” Gaedtke said in recounting a story of Ruge jumping in the water to pull in their pontoon boat. “How easy it was to be his friend and how willing he was to jump into action to do anything for us. … We’re really going to miss him. It’s been a tough few days here but fortunately our community here is really awesome.”

A row of white paper bags with candles.
A memorial honors officer Matthew Ruge during a candlelight vigil on Wednesday under the Bridge at Heritage Park in Wabasha. Ruge was fatally shot while on duty early morning Sunday.
Maya Giron | Post Bulletin

Over his 22 years in education and discussions with thousands of students, Freihammer said “what made Matt remarkable was that he had perfected the art of niceness.”

“He was just a one-of-a-kind great human,” Freihammer said. “I would not describe Matthew as a typical high school student, if anything his genuine kindness to others and respect for all made him an extraordinary young man that no one could or will ever forget.”

As a fearless, strong, smart, skilled and compassionate person, Ruge grew “ready to take on the world and make a difference,” Freihammer described. He shared his smile to welcome people and helped people value themselves. He was also known for his positivity in the school hallways and traveling miles to support a friend.

“Matt was a great police officer who served with passion and kindness. He followed his dream while staying true to his own unique set of high values,” Freihammer said. “Matt embodied the best of all human kind and the best of law enforcement.”

With signs of support for law enforcement and rows of first responder vehicles from throughout Minnesota along Wabasha’s Main Street, about 250 people gathered to grieve, mourn and remember Ruge. They shared heavy hearts, hugs and laughter in the embrace of community under the Wabasha-Nelson bridge.

“Every day Matthew wore his uniform knowing the risks that lay ahead, yet he was unwavering in his commitment to protecting and serving others,” Wabasha Police Chief Joe Stark said. “Let us not only mourn but celebrate the impact Matthew had on the lives that he has touched.”

While remembering the fallen first responders, Pastor Dave Knox of Faith Lutheran Church in Wabasha shared of Ruge’s “true goodness that lived within him.” He watched Ruge grow in his faith and character as his pastor. He reminded community members the good Ruge did in his life was not in vain and that the darkness will not overcome.

“Matt was proud to wear his police uniform and to serve and we are all proud of him for the man that he became and he was,” Knox said.

A joint memorial service for the fallen first responders will be held in Eden Prairie, Minnesota at 11 a.m. on Feb. 28. For more information on the service and donation options, vist the city of Burnsville website at burnsvillemn.gov/2376/Community-Updates. People can also donate to the Law Enforcement Labor Services Benevolent Fund.