A relentless work ethic, a desire to help and a duty-bound sense that law enforcement was his path: Matthew Ruge knew he would become a police officer from a young age.

He told friends that he could make a difference in the world through law enforcement. He told his family he wanted to be there for people on the worst day of their lives.

Ruge, a police officer in Burnsville, was fatally shot Feb. 18 along with fellow officer Paul Elmstrand and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth while responding to a domestic violence incident. Ruge was 27.

"Matthew was the light of our lives," read a statement from his family. "From the time he was born, he showed signs of 'perfecting the art of kindness' and was a joy to everyone around him. He never hesitated to drop what he was doing to help a neighbor or friend in need. He was the 'glue guy' who made everyone around him better."

Ruge had become a trusted and reliable crisis negotiator by the time of his death, according to Burnsville Sgt. Adam Medlicott, who was injured in the shooting that took Ruge's life. Four years ago, as a rookie Burnsville cop, Ruge failed to talk a woman out of a closet so she could get help for an addiction. Medlicott had to step in, and then offered a veteran's advice: You'll grow, he told Ruge.

After years of difficult work, extra assignments Ruge gave himself and an FBI course, Ruge could handle difficult negotiations — and was doing so on the domestic call the morning he died — said Medlicott, speaking at the funeral for the three responders.

"I believed in him as a crisis negotiator, and everyone here should know, he was doing an amazing job of it," Medlicott said.

Ruge, born in Springfield, Mass., moved with his parents, Sean Ruge and Christi Henke, and sister Hannah when he was still young to the unincorporated township of Reads Landing near Wabasha, where he grew up on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. In an obituary his family said he spent his time playing outdoors, joining youth hockey and his school's golf and sport shooting teams despite serious health issues related to Crohn's disease.

"Every teacher liked him," said Jon Auge, who taught Ruge in seventh and eighth grades. He recalled a sweet, quiet child who earned good grades and never needed to be corrected.

Ruge graduated from Wabasha-Kellogg High School in 2015 and was awarded the Falcon Award for good sportsmanship and the Shawn Schneider Memorial Scholarship for law enforcement careers. He remained upbeat about Crohn's and eventually could manage the persistent medical condition, according to his obituary, but it prevented him from pursuing his first career choice of enlisting with the military.

He liked to be prepared. Ruge was practical, carrying duct tape, paracord, a lighter and a knife, "just in case" they were needed, according to his family.

He was a ready hand for an elderly neighbor in Reads Landing, according to the man's daughter, Robin Gwaltney.

"I was so impressed with Matt and how respectful and caring he was," she said. "Most kids go through a bratty stage; he did not. He was always the kid who, if he saw my dad out in the yard, he would offer to go out and help. I wasn't at all surprised that this kid grew up and decided to become a police officer."

Ruge graduated magna cum laude from his law enforcement program at Mankato State in 2018; he joined the Burnsville police department in 2020. He was the recipient of the Life Saving Medal while at the Burnsville Police Department.

Ruge's first days on the job in April 2020 took place amid the twin crisis of the COVID pandemic and the unrest that followed George Floyd's murder, but even with those challenges Ruge reaffirmed to others that he wanted to serve.

"We took as many calls for service as possible," said Burnsville police officer Pete Mueller, speaking at the funeral. Ruge's work ethic and attention to detail inspired nicknames. One was "Rogue-y," because Ruge would "go rogue" and assign himself extra work; the other was "the Book," because he performed the job by the book, according to Mueller.

Ruge moved to the night shift, and eventually the crisis negotiations team, where Ruge's calm demeanor and authenticity made him a natural fit.

"I think the entire department would attest that it was impossible not to love Ruge," said Mueller. "He was smart, self-deprecating, quick-witted, humble, and last year I watched Matt become a trusted resource for his partners both old and new."

In the shooting that took his life, Ruge negotiated for several hours with a man who claimed to be unarmed, giving the other first responders time to bring more resources and more protection. When gunfire erupted, Ruge helped Elmstrand, Mueller said, although he was hurt himself.

Burnsville Police Chief Tanya Schwartz said Ruge was humble, passionate about helping people in crisis, and someone who brought a smile and a positive attitude to a difficult job. Speaking at the funeral, she said Ruge, Elmstrand and Finseth gave up their lives to protect the city and each other.

"These brave men took an oath to keep the community safe," she said. "And that's what they did."