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Year in Review No. 1: Three Carroll residents killed in the line of duty

Richard Michael "Mike" Ridgell, Capt. Sara M. Cullen and Officer Jason Schneider
Richard Michael "Mike" Ridgell, Capt. Sara M. Cullen and Officer Jason Schneider (submitted photos)

Every year, Carroll residents mourn the death of notable figures in the community. But 2013 saw the death of three residents who were killed in the line of duty.

In March, a 27-year-old Eldersburg native died during a helicopter training mission in Afghanistan.

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In August, a 36-year-old Baltimore County SWAT team member and Manchester resident died serving a warrant to a Catonsville residence.

And in September, a 52-year-old Washington Navy Yard security officer and Westminster resident died when a gunman opened fire inside the building he protected.

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Eldersburg native killed in Afghanistan

Capt. Sara M. Cullen could fly a helicopter one minute and gab with the girls the next.

"She just was the kind of girl who could take down a full-grown man with a Judo kick in one minute and be wearing a pair of 6-inch stilettos, carrying a Coach purse the next," childhood friend Ashley Rainey said in a March interview. "And she did both of them perfectly."

Cullen, maiden name Knutson, died March 11 when the Black Hawk helicopter she was in crashed in a training mission during a heavy rainstorm near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Five soldiers were killed in the crash.

The Liberty High School alumna who grew up in Eldersburg packed so much life into her 27 years, family and friends said.

She participated in the Student Government Association, ski club, Spanish club, track and musicals during high school.

After graduating from Liberty High School, she studied law at West Point. She decided to pursue aviation during her sophomore year, and later was stationed in Fort Wainwright in Alaska, in Pakistan for a six-month humanitarian mission and in Afghanistan, where she was deployed just a few months before her death.

"She was a great sister," her brother, Keith Knutson, wrote in an email in March, "and a better person who wanted to help the less fortunate by being in the military."

And that was a job she loved, a sentiment she expressed to her hometown friends one night when they were all home and gathered together.

"[Cullen] said to us one time … 'Everybody complains about their job, and sometimes they hate it, but I just step back, and I realize that I'm a Black Hawk pilot, and I think that's pretty cool,'" Lindsay Podobnik Holbig said.

Friends said goodbye to Cullen at Haight Funeral Home in Sykesville and at a funeral service at St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg in March. She was remembered and honored at a Baltimore Orioles game, a Salute to Armed Forces concert at Liberty High School and a Memorial Day observance at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Baltimore County officer, Carroll native killed serving a warrant

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Officer Jason Schneider's death left the Baltimore County SWAT team — a small, elite group — reeling with grief. The tragedy seeped through police departments in Maryland and other states and through his hometown in Carroll County.

Schneider, 36, of Manchester, was killed serving a warrant to a Catonsville residence Aug. 28. He was a mild-mannered, family-oriented man and a competent police officer who served on Baltimore County's 23-member SWAT team.

Schneider joined the Marines after graduating from North Carroll High School. Following in his father's footsteps — who was both a Marine and a Baltimore City police officer — Schneider joined the Baltimore County Police Department 13 years ago and the tactical team in 2004, graduating first in his class and quickly rising through the ranks to become a senior counter-sniper.

He was the front man, the one who went through the door first.

"I've done this for many, many years," said Officer Robert Jones, a veteran tactical team member, "and he's as good as it gets at being that guy."

He was dedicated to his job. But he was also dedicated to his family. On Friday nights, he'd anxiously await the time until he could go home and see his wife of seven years, Ericka Nicole Fulton Schneider, and two children.

"Jason told me he loved me every day — five times a day," according to a statement by Ericka Schneider at the funeral. "He kissed me goodbye every morning and kissed me goodnight every night."

After his death, Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered the state flags to be at half staff. More than a thousand friends, family and police officers from as close as Carroll and Baltimore counties to as far as Michigan and New Jersey attended his visitation and funeral to mourn together.

Washington Navy Yard security officer and Westminster resident killed in mass shooting

Westminster resident Richard Michael "Mike" Ridgell, 52, was one of a dozen killed in the Navy Yard massacre in Washington, D.C., Sept. 16.

Former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis, 34, opened fire at the Navy Yard shortly after 8 a.m. that day.

News of Ridgell's death came as a huge shock to family and friends. Ridgell had three daughters, Megan Ridgell, Maddi Ridgell and Heather Hunt.

The Aces, the softball team Mike Ridgell coached along with others, held a vigil at Jaycee Park in Westminster the evening of Sept. 17. Friends and family described him as a caring family man.

"We don't want him to be known as a faceless victim," Megan Ridgell said, an in interview at the vigil. "He was a son, a brother, a father."

Ridgell had worked as a security officer at the Navy Yard. He was a 1979 graduate of Brooklyn Park High School and worked as a Maryland State Police trooper from January 1983 until August 2000. He resigned with the rank of corporal.

He then worked at Johns Hopkins Medicine from July 2000 to July 2007 as a security investigator. He also worked as a contractor training police in Iraq.

Friends said Ridgell was compassionate and helped people throughout his life.

"Mike was the type of fellow that always did what was right. He didn't back away from challenges," said Tony Dietz, of Westminster, who spoke in an interview after the shooting and knew Ridgell for about 40 years. "If Mike knew something was right, and it had to be done, Mike was the type of guy that stepped up and did it."

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