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Watch: Police, firefighters eulogize fallen Burnsville first responders

Fellow responders eulogize Paul Elmstrand, Adam Finseth and Matthew Ruge
Fellow responders eulogize Paul Elmstrand, Adam Finseth and Matthew Ruge 35:00

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The law enforcement and firefighting communities remembered three fallen Burnsville first responders at a public memorial Wednesday.

Police officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge and paramedic and firefighter Adam Finseth were fatally shot during a standoff Feb. 18. The suspect died by suicide after the killings, authorities said.

At a memorial at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, those who knew Elmstrand, Ruge and Finseth eulogized them. Officer Pete Mueller, Deputy Chief Matt Smith and Chief Tanya Schwartz from the Burnsville Police Department spoke, as well as Captain Brandon Johannsen and Chief BJ Jungmann of the city's fire department. You can watch all of their eulogies in the video above, or read them below.

Officer Pete Mueller

Good morning, my name is Pete Mueller. I get to talk about Matt. Matt Ruge and I began our careers with the Burnsville Police Department in April 2020. We were sworn in together and we became pals. Badge number 183 was pinned on Matt's chest. And I received badge 184, which made him my senior officer. And on occasion, he would sheepishly remind me of this. And then he'd needle me a little bit more by pointing out that I was very senior to him in age.

He and I started at a unique time, which coincided with a pandemic and unrest. And Ruge rose up to these challenges, and he reaffirmed his commitment to service. His sense of humor and unwavering desire to make a difference immediately earned my respect. Matt and I worked together on our 11 shift in 2021 and we took as many calls for service as possible. He wanted to keep his day shift partners' plates clear, while getting as many repetitions as he could. He earned the nickname "Roguie," because he would often go rogue by self-assigning calls outside of his designated area. He gained some significant experience early on due to his relentless work ethic, and being involved in several critical incidents as well.

In 2022, Matt sought a new challenge when he bid the night shift. He made dear friends. He learned from them, he backed them, trained with them, hung out with them, gamed with them. Ruge successfully handled difficult calls and developed tremendous confidence as an officer that year. His partners, sergeants, investigators found him to be extremely reliable and consistent. And Ruge earned another nickname: The Book. And that's because he went by the book in every situation.

I rejoined Matt as his day-for-day dogwatch partner in 2023. In addition, he and I became members of the department's crisis negotiation team and we attended a 40-hour FBI course together in the fall. And he was a perfect fit for this role. And it was because of his calm demeanor, and his authenticity, and my admiration and affection for Matt grew as we worked together and learned together. I think the entire department would attest that it was impossible not to love Ruge. He was smart, self-deprecating, quick-witted, humble. And last year, I watched Matt become a trustworthy resource for his partners, both old and new.

This year, I chose a schedule that would allow me to work day-for-day with him again and I was excited to hang out with him. I was excited to listen to our partners tease him about his dating life. I was excited to hear Ruge tell stories about the time that he spent with his family and friends during trips up to Champlin or out to Arizona or down to the old his old stomping grounds in Wabasha and Mankato. I also looked forward to responding to difficult calls with him, working as a team, deploying crisis negotiation techniques side-by-side and we received that opportunity on Sunday morning, Feb. 18.

And those touched by Matt in his passing must know, as Sgt. Medlicott mentioned, he was extraordinarily heroic that morning. He negotiated for several hours, which bought us time. And in law enforcement, we know that time is our friend And the time that he delivered brought countless resources to the scene which protected many of us. Furthermore, when the unthinkable happened, Matt brought his partner Paul to safety, although he was hurt himself. And Ruge repeatedly risked his life to save our friend, and in doing so, Matt made the ultimate sacrifice.

And it is unacceptable that Matt did not go home that morning. The loss his family and friends feel is unbearable. And at the same time, it is also true that Ruge left us with remarkable gifts. For example, I noticed that I'm saying I love you a lot this last week-and-a-half. And I'm hearing I love you a lot, too. And we're greeting each other with hugs. And I've noticed the outpouring of support for police officers and first responders and our families in a way that I've never seen before. And we're all in awe and so appreciative of the empathy and encouragement. I've also noticed that I'm praying a lot more with gratitude and for healing.

And Matt also left us the gift of his example. Many of the things which have already mentioned, his authenticity, his work ethic, his playfulness, his sense of humor, his selflessness, his trustworthiness, integrity and commitment to service. And all these gifts that he's given us are good things. And we'd be better off if the things that we're doing now continue. And if they do, and we follow Matt's example, then we become better people for it. And if we become better people for it, then I think that makes Ruge an even bigger hero than he already is.

So Matt, Ruge, Rug, Roguie, The Book, my senior officer, 45183, thank you for these gifts. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for having our backs. We love you and we'll miss you so much.

Deputy Police Chief Matt Smith  

Hello, my name is Matt Smith. I have the privilege to work with the Burnsville Police Department.

It's cliche sometimes in the time of tragedy to say that these were the nicest people. But in this case, it's true. These three men really were the nicest people. That's why I'm honored, was honored when Paul's close friends asked if I would say a few words about him. I found it comforting over the last week to find that many of the things I would say about Paul have also been said by his family and closest friends. This tells me that these aren't just words but truly embody who Paul was.

First of these attributes was Paul's laugh. Paul had a laugh that was infectious, and it's been said that perhaps Paul's favorite comedian to induce this laugh was Paul. Paul also was an avid watcher and we have learned rewatcher of the television show "The Office." Last week when we met with Cindy, she asked if she could grab a few things from his desk. True to Paul, there were a number of "The Office" references in his cabinet. There was also what appeared to be an empty milk bottle with some handwritten notes on the side. Cindy looked up at Chief and I as if to say, "What's this about?" With all of the confidence I could muster I looked back at Cindy and said, "No idea." But I know that whatever that bottle was about meant something to Paul and his friends. And now it means something to Cindy. And I can only imagine that whatever was behind that inside joke involved Paul and his laugh.

Another recurring theme this week has been Paul's dedication to honoring fallen officers. For those who don't know, LEMA, or the Law Enforcement Memorial Association, is the group that helps put on services like this one here today. The honor guard is part of this team and helps bestow the honors at these services. Recently Paul applied for a spot on the LEMA honor guard. I happened to run into Paul as he was coming back from one of the parts of the selection process. He was so excited and proud to apply to be a part of the LEMA honor guard. I'm told that he would often polish his boots or practice formations and movements in the family living room. Paul was notified just a few weeks ago that he had made the LEMA honor guard team where he would have been honored, would have honored the fallen as we are doing today.

I was also reminded this week that Paul's commitment to honoring our heroes is not new to him. On Sept. 14, 2017, Paul was a community service officer with our department. On that day, Paul joined the Burnsville contingent to attend the funeral of Wayzata officer Mathews. Paul had been with us for only one month and one week at the time.

Perhaps the thing that has come up most this week is Paul's love for his family. He absolutely adored Cindy, Maria and Mateo. I was fortunate to see this firsthand last year on Peace Officer Memorial Day. Paul was at the Capitol representing the Burnsville honor guard. Cindy and Maria were there and there became an impromptu photo session. I got to watch as the Elmstrand family cuddled in for the various poses. Later that night, Paul sent me one of those pictures of him holding Maria. A minute later came another one with a note that said, "Alright, just one more. She's too cute, huh?" In that day, I was able to see the extent of Paul's pride for honoring the fallen and love for his family.

Paul truly was one of the nicest guys. We're gonna miss him.

Fire Captain Brandon Johannsen  

My name is Brandon Johanssen, and I'm a captain with the Burnsville Fire Department. I had the pleasure of working alongside Adam as his captain for the past three-and-a-half years. I know that may not seem like a long time, but if you knew Adam, he can make a huge impact in a short amount of time. It is my honor to sum up his significant impact in just a few minutes.

Adam was a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend and more. He was also a soldier, a firefighter and a paramedic. Adam was one of the most selfless individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He possessed an innate ability to put others' wellbeing before his own, always ensuring that everyone around him felt seen, heard and cared for. His compassion knew no bounds. And his unwavering commitment to the happiness and comfort of those he cared for and loved was truly extraordinary. Opening up to Adam was like stepping into a sanctuary of trust, empathy and understanding. He had an unparalleled knack for sensing when something wasn't quite right. He was always there to lend a listening ear, offer words of wisdom or to simply share a laugh. His genuine concern for the welfare of others often led to heartfelt conversations and lengthy discussions, as Adam poured his heart and soul into easing the burdens of those around him. His kindness, compassion and generosity knew no bounds, and his presence enriched the lives of everyone he touched.

Adam was a man of honor, integrity and kindness. His actions spoke louder than his words. You never heard him speak ill will of anyone. In a world where cynicism and self-interest often prevail, Adam stood as a testament to the power of goodness and true selflessness. He reminded us all that strength is found not in force or aggression, but in the quiet courage to stand up for what is right, even when difficult.

At the firehouse, Adam was a jokester. His infectious laugh and witty banter brought joy to even the toughest days. We could always count on him to lighten the mood with his quick wit and playful demeanor. That signature smirk that preceded his clever remarks will forever be etched in our memories.

Adam was more than a comedian. He was deeply committed to his role as a firefighter and paramedic. He was always taking on new roles and responsibilities while also taking the time to teach others. He also possessed an innate, insatiable curiosity and genuine desire to know everything happening. Not out of nosiness, but out of a sincere dedication to doing what was right for his patients and the department.

Not only was Adam dedicated to the job, but most importantly, he was dedicated to his family. To you, Tara. I am honored and humbled to have spent these last days with you and your family. I am deeply sorry for your loss. Please know that Adam's bravery, courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten. As you can see behind you, you're surrounded by our family, which is also your family. A family that will be at your side, through all that is to come, now and forever. We will offer unwavering support and love in moments of uncertainty and fear. You don't have to walk this journey alone. We love you and we will be here for you every step of the way.

Liam, Nora, I need to tell you that your papa is a hero. He loves you very much. He talked about you every day at work when he was not with you. It's OK to feel sad and miss him. We can talk about him and remember the good times whenever you want. Remember that even though he's not here with us today, he will always be with you and live in our hearts forever.

Adam, I know you're up there in heaven probably looking down and thinking this is all too much. Well brother, you deserve it. You were the best of us. 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.

Police Chief Tanya Schwartz  

Good morning everyone. My name is Tanya Schwartz and I'm the Burnsville police chief. I stand before you today with a heavy heart and a range of emotions as we honor these fallen heroes. I offer my deepest condolences to the Ruge, Elmstrand and Finseth families. To lose a brother, a husband, a father, a son, a grandson is devastating. And my heart breaks for all of you.

The Burnsville Police Department and the entire public safety community share in the loss of our beloved brothers. I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the grief that Chief Jungmann and our Burnsville Fire Department partners are going through. We may wear different uniforms, but together we will get through the difficult days ahead. The support we've received from our brothers and sisters in blue, brown, maroon and every other color that I see in this space has been absolutely unbelievable. It was heartwarming to see hundreds of law enforcement officials, firefighters, EMS standing at attention when we left the hospital on that terrible morning just over a week ago. Before we walked out those doors into a sea of your support, the staff at Hennepin County Medical Center cared for us in the earliest and most shocking hours of our grief.

To our public safety community, you have embraced us. You have dropped off gifts. You have stood guard at the hospital. You have kept our community safe while we have been grieving and trying to make sense of this tragedy. And we know that you are grieving, too. You have given us strength when we have needed it the most. We will never forget what you have done. Thank you for having our six. We will always have yours.

The world of law enforcement is unique. It takes a strong, resilient, selfless person to choose this profession. I think most in this room would agree it's not a job. It's a calling to serve. And we do it because it's an honor. We do it to help others, to protect the most vulnerable and to make our community safer. We do it to make a difference, just as Matt and Paul did. 

Unfortunately, pinning on our badge means sacrifice. Sacrifice for the officers, sacrifice for the families. Over the past week, we have seen the worst and the best of what the law enforcement calling brings. The absolute worst began on Feb. 18, with the loss of these heroes. As I struggled to make sense of what happened that morning, I was reminded that Paul, Matt and Adam were doing what they were called to do, which was protecting those in harm's way. They gave up their lives to protect others and to protect each other. And I ask that you just reflect on that for a moment. These brave men took an oath to keep the community safe. And that's exactly what they did that morning they died. I will be forever grateful for their sacrifice.

As most of you know, we place the mourning band across our badges following the death of one of our fallen public safety heroes. In Burnsville, our band depicts the thin blue line. The thin blue line, and the red line that our fire and paramedic partners honor, does not represent division. But rather solidarity, selflessness, courage, bravery and the ultimate sacrifice. 

As I look around this room, I cannot help but think about the sense of solidarity that surrounds us as we grieve and honor our fallen together. When we lose a brother or a sister in this tragic way, we are often asked, why would we continue to do this? Why would we continue to show up each day? And those in uniform simply say, "Because it's right. Because it's needed. Because that's who we are." So thank you for putting your uniform on in the most challenging and dangerous times in law enforcement. And doing it every day since our brothers were killed in the line of duty. I'm honored to serve with all of you, and I know our fallen were honored as well.

For those who struggle, and there will be struggle, we will get through this together. We will take care of each other. Be strong. Be courageous. And remember, our communities need us.

On July 21, 2019, officer Paul Elmstrand, and on April 13, 2020, officer Matt Ruge, took an oath to serve the Burnsville community. Their careers were off to a bright start, and both were proudly wearing the Burnsville badge. They knew it represented authority. But more than that, they knew it represented service and sacrifice. They knew it represented a trusted relationship with our community.

Matt brought a smile and a positive attitude to his work every day. He was one of the department's hostage negotiators. A role he served in due to his calm demeanor, his great tone and his empathy. He was passionate about helping people suffering in crisis. Always humble and willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Matt served with compassion to protect the vulnerable.

Paul was part of the department's honor guard, which truly became a passion for him. As you heard, so much so, he applied for the state Law Enforcement Memorial Association honor guard. And he was recently selected. He wanted to provide unwavering support to families. All the families of the fallen. The irony of that is not lost on me.

Matt and Paul loved being police officers. They did the job selflessly with integrity, honor and courage. They knew the dangers, but it never deterred them. On Feb. 18, 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.

To those who wear the title family member, thank you will never be enough. You share in the criticism, emotion and burden tied to the profession. You are the backbone that keeps us going through the hard hours, long shifts and horrific calls. And this past week you shared in our worst nightmare, when members of our public safety family were killed in the line of duty. We know your grief is immense. Thank you for your support and your sacrifice.

To the Ruge, Elmstrand and Finseth families, your lives are forever changed, and our departments will not be the same without these fallen heroes. Please accept my heartfelt thank you for sharing your loved ones with the Burnsville community. We are all better for knowing them. Matt and Paul chose this career to keep people in our city safe, and they gave their lives doing just that. It feels cruel. There are no words to provide sufficient comfort. All we can do is promise you our support and we assure you that we will forever be by your side. I cannot imagine the hole their deaths have left in your lives. Navigating a new normal without their hugs, their smiles, their kindness and all of the things you love dearly about them. It will be difficult and it will take time. Know that you have our unwavering commitment to continue to walk alongside of you.

To our fallen heroes, thank you. We miss you. Know that we will continue to wear the badge with honor and serve with courage just as you did. Know that this will not break us and we will find peace because that is what you would want us to do. Know that we will never give up because you didn't. Know that we will lay our burdens and our guilt down because that is what you would want us to do. Know that you will forever be missed, but we will always be united. Know that you can rest easy and we've got it from here.

Fire Chief BJ Jungmann

Good morning everyone. I am BJ Jungmann, the fire chief for the city of Burnsville. 

I'm honored to spend a few minutes talking about firefighter paramedic Adam Finseth. We were fortunate to have Adam Finseth as a firefighter paramedic on our team for the past five years. As the fire chief, it's my responsibility to ensure we hire the highest quality people with impeccable character traits to serve the community. In our department, we do this by using our four cultural values to guide who we hire, what we expect and how we act. Our four cultural values are character, communication, collaboration and competence. Adam was exemplary of these four cultural values.

I only have time to talk about one of these today, so I chose to focus on the character value. We describe this value through three words: dedication, honor and integrity. Adam displayed extreme dedication to the department. Adam was always working to improve himself. Being a firefighter paramedic was not enough for him. He took on additional roles. Adam was a very active member of our health and wellness committee, which focused on taking care of our firefighters so they can better care for themselves both physically and mentally. Adam was also a tactical paramedic on the SWAT team, which was about taking care of others who put themselves in extreme danger to protect our community. Adam was also a water rescue instructor, ensuring all of our staff are prepared to rescue those that find themselves falling through the ice or drowning in a body of water. He was a truly dedicated member of the Burnsville Fire Department.

Adam was the epitome of honor. The profession itself is honorable. Adam had a propensity to seek out these honorable professions. And he sought them out not for the glory, but because he wanted to serve honorably. Adam started his career by serving our country in the Army. Then, Adam continued by serving his local community as a firefighter and a paramedic. Adam had a servant's heart and was the most humble person you could meet. Without exception, the first question out of Adam's mouth, when you would see him was, "How's the family?"

These examples don't speak of a man seeking glory. These are examples of an honorable man serving honorably. Adam displayed the highest degree of integrity.

I've been able to get to know some of Adam's family over the past week. Not surprisingly, I found that Adam was the same at home as he was on the job. Adam's consistency of character is the definition of integrity. There were no surprises. He treated everyone in the community as he would want to treat his own family.

We don't know someone's character and how they will respond until they are tested. As I observed, and I worked alongside Adam in his career as a firefighter paramedic, and what we all know about the actions during his final moments of his life, I can say without reservation, firefighter paramedic Adam Finseth was tried, he was tested and he was found worthy.

Adam died helping his comrades without a second thought. I'm gonna miss him greatly. It's been a tough week. But I can say the level of character I've seen and experienced not only of Adam, but everyone who continues to serve, makes me proud. I would challenge everyone who is attending this memorial service to honor Adam daily by emulating how he had consistently acted. Just take one thing Adam did and emulate it consistently. If everyone did the things Adam did, the world would be a kinder and more loving place.

To Adam, Paul and Matt's families, I want you to know your public safety family is with you now and into the future. Today we pay tribute and give honor. Tomorrow we will get back to the honorable work of serving others. My brothers and sisters who serve, take care of each other and take care of yourselves.

I'd like to close with this quote: "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."

It's been a privilege to serve with you Adam. God bless you and we will miss you.

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