Memorial for Burnsville officers, paramedic hits a nerve with first responders community

The caskets are brought into the sanctuary
The caskets representing the fallen are brought into the sanctuary at Grace Church before the start of the memorial service there for Burnsville police officers Paul Elmstrand, 27, whose picture stands at left, firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, 40, whose picture stands center, and officer Matthew Ruge, 27, whose picture stands at right, in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Wednesday.
Aaron Lavinsky | Pool photo via Star Tribune

Family members of first responders tearfully watched Wednesday’s memorial to Burnsville police officers Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth.

Many thought about their own loved ones and reflected on the dread they feel every day.

“I cannot imagine that happening to one of my kids,” said Keith Haveck, a father to two firefighters in Shakopee and Red Wing, and a St. Paul police officer. 

“Their life has changed forever for such a silly, silly reason. Something that shouldn’t have happened,” Haveck said.

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Haveck was among the estimated 10,000 people, including 8,500 law enforcement officers, firefighters, and paramedics who attended the memorial for the three first responders who were shot and killed on Feb. 18 while responding to a domestic violence call.

People stand for a procession
Thousands of law enforcement officers, paramedics, firefighters, and other mourners leave to begin the procession after a memorial service for Burnsville police officers Matthew Ruge, 27, Paul Elmstrand, 27, and firefighter/paramedic Adam Finseth, 40, at Grace Church in Eden Prairie Wednesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Jennifer Struck stopped by the Burnsville police station before the memorial started. She grew up in the suburb, and her father served on the Burnsville Police Department back in the 1980s.

“This is so close to home, I remember growing up and you know learning that there is the knock, as the community calls it. It breaks my heart that these families, at this time of their life, got the knock,” Struck said.

Grace Church in Eden Prairie quickly reached capacity as thousands of firefighters, paramedics, and police officers in dress uniform gathered inside. Hundreds of other people went to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville to watch a live video feed.

After watching the service, a tearful Molly Kinnamon said she’d driven in from Taylors Falls, Minn., to show support. Her husband is a police officer but was on duty and so couldn’t come, so she brought her mother.

“It's really hard, to express sometimes to the public how every day when your husband or wife or whomever leaves your house just thinking it could be the last time you see them, and they don’t get a lot of support anymore, I think, the way they used to,” she said.

A woman holds an american flag
A woman waves an American flag during a procession of first responders in Burnsville following a memorial service for officer Paul Elmstrand, officer Matthew Ruge, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth on Wednesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Kinnamon’s mom, Charlotte Weinand, drove 90 minutes from Milaca, Minn. She said she came because her son-in-law is a deputy, “and I just feel like, you know, it could have been him … And I just, I don't know, makes me wonder what this world's coming to, you know, that they had to die on a Sunday morning, going out to save seven children.”

As the service drew to a close, Burnsville Police Chaplain Mark Patrick acknowledged the thousands watching online, including many who might be considering careers as first responders. He said the professions need people with the character and passion that Ruge, Elmstrand, and Finseth brought to their jobs. 

“If you sense a calling to this, if you want to become people like we’re celebrating today, think about it. Many, many departments, police and fire, across our nation, are looking for the right people. You might be one of those,” Patrick said.

He was speaking directly to young people like Joshua John, who watched the service at Prince of Peace church and waited for the procession outside. John is studying law enforcement at Normandale Community College and said the tragedy has made him even more determined to become a police officer.

“If anything, this makes me want to push harder to try and get through school. I recognize the risks, I think we need more people that are, have the right mindset and are willing to make those sacrifices for the people that they serve,” John said.

Burnsville School District Superintendent Theresa Battle watched the procession. Burnsville schools were canceled Wednesday, and Battle said she made the decision to honor the Burnsville first responders and allow students and their families to pay their respects.

“We’re heartbroken. They go out every day to serve us and protect and we have such close ties with the community, they do. They read to my students in school, they serve pancakes at the annual breakfast for the senior center. They just serve us in so many ways and respond to students and staff needs,” Battle said.