Ryan Supplee recalled being extremely nervous the first time he met his girlfriend's father, a former Maryland State Police trooper who also served as a civilian police officer in Iraq.
Supplee recalled thinking to himself: "She's [his girlfriend] beautiful; her dad has to be really mean."
What he found in Richard "Mike" Ridgell was a fun-loving, jokester who became a second father to him.
"He made a huge imprint on everyone he met," Supplee told the sea of well-wishers who filled the dimmed Church at Severn Run on Saturday to mourn Ridgell, one of 12 people killed when gunman Aaron Alexis opened fire at a Washington Navy Yard facility Sept. 16.
The victims worked in various jobs at the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters. Ridgell, 52, a senior security officer for HBC Management Services, was guarding the headquarters the day of the rampage.
"He was a true American hero," said David E.K. Cooper, who delivered a tribute on behalf of HBC.
Cooper stood behind a lectern on a stage flanked by two large screens that showed flickering candles. Ridgell's polished wood casket, adorned with bright red roses, rested on a metallic-gold cart in front of Ridgell's family.
"It became clear to me that Mike's chosen calling was a sacred one — to protect others," Cooper said. "It led him to the front line."
The occasional flash of white tissues cut through the cavernous space as friends and family recalled memories of Ridgell. The sounds of mourners sniffing back tears pierced the air.
"Mike made the ultimate sacrifice protecting all of us," said Vice Adm. William Hilarides, who oversees the day-to-day operations at the Navy Yard. "His Navy family honors him and will never forget him. May he rest in peace."
Speaker after speaker described Ridgell as a fun-loving jokester who was devoted to his family and country.
"He never lost his inner kid," said nephew Evan Picciotto. "He was serious when he needed to be serious or when he needed to lay down the law. But he never lost that inner kid."
The day appeared particularly difficult for Ridgell's three daughters — Megan, Heather, and Madison — who consoled one another throughout the service.
"I think most of my family would agree this doesn't feel real," said Megan. "I'm ready for my Dad to come walking through the door."
Megan — Supplee's girlfriend — said she aimed to see the silver lining in the tragedy.
"My Dad is gone, but I'm not going to be sad. I'm not going to be angry," she said.
"I promise to be a better person and sister," Megan said. "I'm going to make you proud, Dad. I love you."
Heather said she wanted people to remember her father as a kind man.
"My Dad had a huge heart," she said. "He was such a people person. ... Dad was a great encourager. He preferred to see the good in people."
Ridgell grew up in Brooklyn in Anne Arundel County and worked as a Maryland State trooper before working in the Navy Yard. He lived in Owings Mills, and Westminster before that, his family said.
State police Sgt. Marc Black said Ridgell worked for the agency from January 1983 and had achieved the rank of corporal by the time he resigned in August 2000.
"He loved his softball, loved his steamed crabs," said Ridgell's father-in-law, Thomas Lyons. "Mike was a good father, a trooper. He loved softball, loved to play softball and coached his daughters' softball teams through this summer season."
Before working for a HBC, Ridgell spent about five years in Iraq as a private security consultant working with Iraqi security forces. He worked for DynCorp International from 2010 to 2011 on civilian police training contract in Iraq, said a company spokeswoman.
Pastor Walt Gessner led the service. Gessner, who now lives in Ohio, said he was Ridgell's pastor at the Westminster Church of the Nazarene for nine years.
"I'll remember his love. His presence will be greatly missed," he said. "He had faith in Christ. He is in heaven with his Savior."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun