Paul Elmstrand's siblings sometimes lovingly called him "the littlest old man": He was a responsible kid who made friends with his teachers, didn't mind dressing up for school events and was already on his way to becoming a police officer in high school.

The baby of the family — he was 13 years younger than the eldest — he was always along for the ride, watching and learning from his tight-knit group of siblings, his oldest sister Becky Johnson, said. "He showed up for everything for us."

He learned from them to chart his own sure path and chose helping others through law enforcement, she said.

Elmstrand, a 27-year-old Burnsville police officer, was fatally shot Feb. 18 along with officer Matthew Ruge and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, while responding to a domestic incident.

Johnson said the way her brother showed up in his work was similar to the way he showed up in other parts of his life: he didn't demand much and was willing to take risks and make sacrifices for others. Friends and family described him as a devoted husband, loving father and a man of faith with a servant's heart. His strong sense of duty was leavened with a sense of humor, they said.

On the family farm in North Branch, Elmstrand's capacity for both purpose and fun were clear, Johnson said.

"He seemed drawn to professionalism, but yet it was really balanced because he was a pretty goofy, playful kid," she said, describing him playing in the woods and with the family dog.

Years ago, when the Elmstrand siblings planned a Colorado backpacking trip before Johnson's wedding, there was no question that Paul, who was 10 at the time, would come along.

"I think we tried to give Paul the lightest pack and the least amount of responsibilities, but he just jumped right into it and was so excited," Johnson said. "None of us really ever even considered like, oh, Paul can't come along."

Elmstrand continued taking on responsibilities and jumping into new experiences as he got older. In high school, he was senior class president, a member of the law enforcement club and the National Honor Society, said Mark Solberg, the former activities director at Cambridge-Isanti High School. He volunteered with a program to help ninth-graders acclimate to high school.

"He'd look you right in the eye and say hi," Solberg said. "A lot of kids don't do that. They just keep walking. That was always impressive to me — that here's this guy walking by and saying hello. Because if he said hello to me, he was probably saying hello to everybody else."

In his senior yearbook, Elmstrand was highlighted for his infectious laugh.

It was a distinct cackle that got everyone's attention, close friend Mike Seafolk said. "It sounded straight out of a cartoon and it was amazing."

Seafolk, who stood in Elmstrand's wedding and also pursued a career in law enforcement, said Elmstrand brightened people's lives. "Using his witty sense of humor, Paul was always a light in hard times," Seafolk said. "Everyone who called Paul their friend knew how pure his selfless heart was, and how special he was to those he loved."

In high school, Elmstrand joined the Isanti County Law Enforcement Explorers program, according to Press Publications, giving him and other students a first-hand look at his future career.

While some of his siblings had more winding paths toward adulthood, moving around and trying out different jobs, Paul seemed to watch carefully and chart his own course toward police work and family, Johnson said.

"He really had eyes open to watch each of us and the different things we did, and almost seemed to learn by curiosity," Johnson said. "He seemed open to the wisdom and experiences of others."

That openness seemed to help him feel comfortable in lots of groups of people, Johnson said.

"Yet he's still — at the core — the same person," Johnson said, something that's been evident in the last week as she's heard people trade stories about him. "These characteristics of who Paul is around his cousins or around his neighbors or around his coworkers, they seem to have a common thread."

Elmstrand and his wife, Cindy Elmstrand-Castruita, went to the same schools from the time they were small children, and began dating in high school, she told CBS News.

"He was the most generous, loving, patient person I've ever known," she said. "He could have a conversation with anyone and make them feel seen. He would drop everything to help someone who was in need, whether it be family, friend or someone on the street."

The couple went on to college at the University of Northwestern, then married in 2018 and later had two children: 2-year-old María and infant Mateo.

Elmstrand-Castruita called her husband generous, loving and patient.

"He was an amazing husband, father, son, and friend to many," she said in a statement. "He would stay awake so others could sleep. He could make anyone in a room feel welcome. He wore the same pair of pants and the most basic clothes so that he could spoil me and our children."

Elmstrand joined the Burnsville Police Department as a community service officer in 2017. In 2019, he was promoted to officer. He served on the department's field training unit, mobile command staff and peer team.

Elmstrand was considering applying for an open sergeant role in the department when he died, Burnsville Sgt. Adam Medlicott said at Wednesday's memorial. Medlicott, who was injured in the incident that killed his colleagues, added that Elmstrand would have made an excellent sergeant.

He cared so much about his colleagues that he wanted to spend time honoring fallen officers and had just been accepted to the Law Enforcement Memorial Association (LEMA) Honor Guard, a statewide organization that helps memorialize officers who die in the line of duty and helps their families.

"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," Burnsville Deputy Police Chief Matt Smith said at the memorial.

On Wednesday, law enforcement lined up to honor Elmstrand and his fellow responders instead.

When family members worried about Elmstrand's safety, he would counter by invoking a sense of duty, saying, "Hey, this is a profession that needs people who care and are interested in and willing to deal with the complexity of the world around us," Johnson said.

"Whether it was his co-workers or the people he would interact with in a more repetitive way in his role as a police officer, he just always knew everyone's stories and how they all fit together," she said.