When members of the Baltimore County police tactical unit prepared to conduct raids in volatile, high-risk situations, they often turned to Officer Jason Schneider to be the first through the door.
Colleagues say Schneider was extremely dedicated and trained relentlessly — qualities that made him stand out even in a unit known for its hard work and discipline.
"He absolutely loved it," said retired police Lt. Kevin Novak, who headed Schneider's unit for four years.
Schneider, a 36-year-old father of two, was shot and killed in Catonsville on Wednesday morning as the unit tried to execute a search-and-arrest warrant for a suspect in a shooting.
From the tightly knit tactical unit to the top commanders, his death sent the Police Department reeling. As the county pulled together an afternoon memorial, colleagues around the region expressed their sympathy on a Facebook page that quickly attracted more than 6,000 followers.
Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson said Schneider "was extremely experienced" and was considered a leader in the department.
Johnson fought back tears as he spoke.
"This one's particularly hard. He was a great guy."
On Wednesday afternoon, family members were joined by uniformed officers, county prosecutors and others for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Baltimore County Police Department Memorial outside the county courthouse.
Under cloudy skies, Schneider's relatives walked past his fellow tactical officers, who were wearing green uniforms. The family placed a delicate yellow-and-blue floral wreath adorned with a lavender ribbon in front of a memorial in the shape of the department badge.
A black cloth was wrapped around the memorial, girded on either side by tablets bearing the names of eight other county officers who have died in the line of duty since the department was established in 1874.
A family member who did not identify herself thanked members of the crowd for their support. She spoke briefly, describing Schneider as dedicated to his job.
After the mostly silent ceremony ended, the family members hugged members of the tactical team and the group slowly dispersed.
Novak said members of the unit grow especially close, given the dangers they face together and the amount of time they spend in training.
"We would occasionally have to be out on surveillance together for hours on end," Novak said."I saw a closeness unlike any patrol units I worked for."
Novak said tactical officers often change roles depending on the situation but that Schneider was considered "very skilled" and known for his "extraordinary judgment."
On dangerous missions, he said, the first person inside is considered a leader.
Schneider, the son of a Baltimore City police officer, also served as a mentor for others, colleagues say. He was an instructor for the counter-sniper school, a weeks-long program offered to officers in the county and other jurisdictions in the area.
"He was extremely competitive," Novak said. He said Schneider was also very fit and would get involved in friendly contests in the weight room when the group worked out together.
Bert Shirey, a retired deputy chief in Baltimore City who worked with tactical units, said tactical officers must face high-risk situations every day.
"Getting hurt like that or getting killed is not that frequent, but no matter how much you prepare, these things happen. It's part of the dangers of the job," he said.
But it's that shared risk that adds to the "sense of family" that brought officers around the region together to mourn Schneider's loss.
Police say Schneider was rounding a corner inside the house on Roberts Avenue in Catonsville when he was shot.
Police say he returned fire, striking his alleged assailant. Tevon Smith, 25, died later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Police say Smith was not the suspect police were seeking.
Shirey said tactical units train regularly for different scenarios, and attempt to use intelligence such as who the occupants are, what the floor plan might be and whether there are bystanders.
"They are planned in as much detail as we could possibly get together prior to getting in," he said. But "sometimes you get caught by surprise, there are extraneous factors you cannot predict."
Typically, he said, such officers wear heavier gear than the average patrol officer. But even with such precautions, the officers can be vulnerable.
"There are chinks in the armor," Shirey said.
Baltimore County police said Schneider was wearing a bullet-proof vest, but one round struck him in the back.
Through the department, Schneider's family declined to comment. Officers in his hometown of Manchester in Carroll County closed the roadway that leads to his house. A handful of police cruisers were in the area, allowing only residents to pass through.
Schneider's funeral has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church on Hanover Pike in Manchester. A viewing will be held from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at the Eckhardt Funeral Chapel on Charmil Drive in Manchester.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Blair Ames and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.
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