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Ridgell remembered as loving family man

SEVERN - A slideshow streamed across two flatscreen televisions flanking the stage.
There was a photograph of Richard Michael "Mike" Ridgell wearing a silly red crab hat and a goofy smile. There were several of him dressed in Army garb overseas in Iraq. And there were even more of him with his daughters.
The photographs depicted what family and friends described Saturday at the funeral service dozens attended for the 52-year-old Westminster resident: a man with a wry smile, a big heart and a playful sense of humor. A man who, friends said, was fatally killed protecting others during gunman Aaron Alexis' shooting spree inside the Washington Navy Yard Sept. 16.
"He was serious when he needed to be serious," nephew Evan Picciotto said at Saturday's funeral service at The Church at Severn Run. "He knew when it was time to lay down the law, so to speak. But he never lost his inner kid."
A simple game of catch could quickly turn into an all-out baseball game with lines drawn in the sand and batters gearing up for their turn at the "plate." Ridgell was the kind of guy who'd come up to family or friends and say, "Hey buddy," in that high-pitched excited voice of his, Picciotto said.
To his daughters, he'd often say, "I got you, babycakes," 19-year-old daughter Megan Ridgell said.
He never missed a chance to tell his three daughters - Heather Hunt, and Megan and Madison Ridgell - that he loved them, that there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for them, Hunt said. But he was that second dad, or that father figure, to so many others.
"Kids always gravitated toward Dad because he knew how to play and not take himself too seriously," Hunt said. "He was a big kid. He was the cool dad, the softball coach that all the little girls had crushes on, the chaperone that all the little boys wanted to follow around and be like on field trips. He loved being goofy, easing tension, making people laugh."
As a security officer at the Navy Yard, he'd sometimes greet employees and guests at the turnstile with a joke but always with a smile - "I remember that smile," Navy Vice Adm. William Hilarides said.
Yet, he took his jobs seriously, whether it was his 17-year stint with the Maryland State Police or his five years as a senior corporate investigator at Johns Hopkins University, his three years overseas in Iraq or his post as a senior security officer for HBC Management Services stationed at the Washington Navy Yard That's why Picciotto had a horrible pit in his stomach mid-afternoon Sept. 16 when he heard Ridgell had been in the building and no family members had heard from him.
"Because we knew that he was not going to be the one to run out of the building," Picciotto said. "He wasn't going to go away from it; he was going to go toward it. ... He was going to do anything to save somebody's life."
At the funeral, Hilarides shared the story of Sept. 16 that Naval District of Washington Police Chief Michael McKinney told him previously.
McKinney pulled up to building 197, where Alexis had fired shots, in his squad car. McKinney ran inside, saw Ridgell and said, "Mike, we're going upstairs. Whatever you do, don't let him out of the building."
"Mike made the ultimate sacrifice protecting all of us," Hilarides said.
Guarding others from danger was a career path he'd chosen because he believed in people, Hunt said.
"He said everybody wants the same things in life," she said. "A better life for themselves, for their children and their country and that, those things, those intangibles, those are what he built a lifetime trying to protect."
And outside the chapel, boards covered with pictures showed him living that life - photographs of him holding his daughter while wearing his Maryland State Police uniform. Or him being goofy, pretending to eat a fish still attached to the pole. Or swimming in a pool or reading a newspaper. There was a single Post-it stuck in the middle of one such collage with three words written: "I love you," the yellow note said.

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