Posted at: 11/30/2012 2:18 AM
Updated at: 12/01/2012 11:04 AM
By: Scott Theisen
The central Minnesota community of Cold Spring is coming to grips with the loss of a local police officer who was ambushed while trying to help a man believed to be suicidal.
Officer Tom Decker, 31, had gone to check on a man's welfare when he was fatally shot after getting out of his squad car near a Main Street bar Thursday night. Investigators said Friday that several guns were found, and the man who was reported to be suicidal - 34-year-old Ryan Michael Larson - was taken into custody.
One woman who said she didn't know Decker left a flower bouquet for his family at City Hall, where a heart-shaped balloon and candle were also left. A banner made at a local school was filled with dozens of colorful handprints cut out of construction paper and read: "We thank all of you for your service to our community."
When asked about the banner, Cold Spring Mayor Doug Schmitz was moved to tears. "It's tough," he whispered.
"A lot of people woke up this morning in shock, and we're still in shock," he said later. "We're a strong community. We just bind together here. It's going to be a tough few days and weeks to come, but we'll make it."
Cold Spring Police Chief Phil Jones says Decker, a six-year veteran, was a “chief’s dream” and an active member of the community. Decker grew up on a farm south of the town with his parents, who still reside there.
“He was our department’s jokester,” Jones said. “He had a great sense of humor, and everyone who met him liked him.”
Rosella Decker said her son never had a temper, was real easy going and nothing seemed to really rattle him. He loved helping people, she said.
She always tried not to worry about dangers of police work. "I guess, I always knew it could happen. You know you do. You know that it could, but you just ... it totally takes you off guard ... it doesn't seem real," she said.
A procession of law enforcement brought Decker's body back to a Cold Spring funeral home Friday night, following an autopsy in St. Paul.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said his department got a call around 9 p.m. Thursday reportedly from Larson's family, saying he might be suicidal.
Cold Spring police went to his apartment above Winners Sports Bar and Grill. They couldn't raise anyone, and returned almost two hours later.
Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Assistant Superintendent Drew Evans says they believe Decker, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was ambushed.
Decker was shot twice and died. No one else was injured.
Evans says police immediately surrounded the area after the shooting.
Police with dogs worked in an apparent search for a gun near the site of the shooting in Cold Spring, about 20 miles southwest of St. Cloud.
Brian Moen, who lives about a block from the bar, said officers who came to his door told him they were looking for a sawed-off shotgun.
Larson was booked just after midnight on suspicion of second-degree murder. The county attorney's office is considering criminal charges.
Authorities don’t believe Larson had occupied the apartment for very long.
Larson had drawn police attention before in the community of about 4,000, mostly for traffic-related offenses but once in an abuse case.
In 2009, he reached a plea agreement to settle a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for engaging in behavior that could "arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others."
As part of the plea deal, he served a day in jail and had another three months stayed, but he agreed to undergo domestic abuse counseling. A no-contact order was issued. Court files indicated he violated his probation in 2010.
Civil court records show Larson was sued more than once over outstanding debt and was evicted from a rental property in 2008 for failing to pay his rent.
Larson's relatives either couldn't be reached or declined to comment. One said she wasn't sure whether Larson had an attorney.
Larson is a second-year machine tool student at St. Cloud Technical & Community College, said Heidi Everett, a spokeswoman for St. Cloud Technical & Community College.
Decker leaves behind a wife and four children from a previous marriage - two daughters ages 8 and 7, and two sons ages 6 and 5. He is a 2002 graduate of Alexandria Technical College. In March of 2006, Decker began serving the cities of Cold Spring and Richmond and was the firearms instructor and the use of force instructor.
Condolences came from fellow police officers in other Minnesota departments and from elected officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton.
"Cold Springs Police Officer Tom Decker was senselessly murdered last night, while acting in the line of duty," the governor said. "On behalf of the people of Minnesota, I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and to the Cold Springs Police Department for their tragic loss of an outstanding officer, father and friend. Officer Decker died, while protecting his fellow citizens. For his heroism, we will be forever grateful."
The Cold Spring Police Department serves Cold Spring, Richmond, and the Wakefield Township. They have eight full-time officers and eight part-time officers.
The investigation is still ongoing and the crime scene is being processed.
No Stearns County officer has been killed in the line of duty since St. Joseph officer Brian Klinefelter was shot in 1996 during the arrest of three robbery suspects.
A memorial fund has been set up to help support Decker's family, click here for details.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.