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."
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."