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20 members of the Burnsville Care Team stand in front of a powerpoint slide that reads
Moms Demand Action

Burnsville Care Team: Supporting Families and First Responders Grieving Their Fallen Heroes

My name is Patty Matthews, and I am the South Metro, Minneapolis, Moms Demand Action Chapter Lead. 

I began volunteering with Moms Demand Action in July 2022 after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. When I first started volunteering in 2022, the South Metro chapter was not very active. After attending some Zoom meetings for other chapters in Minneapolis, I offered to help organize an in-person South Metro meeting in June 2023. A few days before that meeting, the chapter lead had to step back from her role and asked me to cover the meeting. I took on the role and became the chapter lead in June 2023.

An image of Patty Matthews, a woman with light skin, dark glasses, and a white shirt. She is smiling and her shoulder-length blonde hair is straight and parted down the center. She wears medium-size hoop earrings and a silver necklace chain.

Although I joined Moms Demand Action after a school shooting, preventing all forms of gun violence is what keeps me going. Educating others on secure gun storage practices is one thing I care deeply about. 

Since the start of 2023, at least 10 children in Minnesota have been shot by guns in incidents that involved a lack of secure firearm storage. Guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. I have 11 grandkids who live in various locations across the country—I know I have to do my part to help reduce gun violence.

I am also the mother of a Burnsville, Minnesota police officer and the wife of a Burnsville Police and Fire Chaplain. When my son started as an officer 21 years ago, four Minnesota law enforcement officers were killed across a decade. Now, five first responders have been killed in just the last year. 

On February 18, 2024, two law enforcement officers and a firefighter-paramedic were shot and killed while responding to a domestic dispute call. Our community has been devastated by the shooting of the fallen heroes:

  • Paul Elmstrand, married and a father to a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old baby. 
  • Matthew Ruge, the son of Christi Henke and Sean Ruge.
  • Adam Finseth, married and a father to two young children. 

There were 100 shots fired at first responders on the morning of February 18. While some of the first responders were not physically wounded, the shooting nonetheless has impacted them significantly. Some of the officers who witnessed the shooting are still not back to work; some may not ever return. In the wake of this tragic shooting, our community members have come together to support the Burnsville police and fire departments.

Police and fire departments in surrounding areas protected Burnsville, allowing officers to take two weeks off to mourn their colleagues who were taken by gun violence. Faith communities in the area held vigils in memory of these fallen heroes. Local businesses supplied food for the grieving families and members of the police and fire departments. The businesses also created and distributed yard signs to visibly show that our community is thinking of those most impacted. 

Individual community members have also found both small and big ways to do something to show support. My husband—a police and fire chaplain—and I went to the funeral home when the bodies of Paul, Matthew, and Adam were transferred from the Medical Examiner. On our way home, we stopped to get something to eat. When we went to pay our bill, we found people on the other side of the room had already paid it. They had seen my husband’s jacket, which said “Burnsville Chaplain,” and said this was one way to show their support. 

People want to do something during these tragic times. My experience with grieving has been that people rally right away after a death or a tragedy, and then tapers off in the time that follows. Personally, I have many connections to the Burnsville fire and police departments and years of working alongside my husband in the church. Because of this, I have been leading the Burnsville care efforts along with many willing volunteers. 

A poster branded with the Moms Demand Action logo reads "Help Us Support Burnsville For" in red text and "The Next Year" in blue text at the top. There are text boxes in shades of yellow, red, white, and blue about the Burnsville Care Team. The department headshot images of the three first responders killed on Feb. 18, 2024, are displayed at the top right of the poster, labeled "EOW: February 18, 2024."

I told our Moms Demand Action chapter volunteers that, from my experience, the best way I felt we could support the grieving families, fire department, and police officers was to be there when the support wanes. I also shared that the monthly and yearly marks of the shooting, as well as significant life moments, are often particularly hard for those grieving. 

At our February meeting, our chapter wrote sympathy cards to the families and to the police and fire chiefs. We also wrote thank-you notes to the many police and fire departments in the surrounding areas who stepped in to help cover for the Burnsville first responders. We created a Burnsville Care Team to sustain our support. 

On the 18th of every month—the mark of the shooting—we bring treats to the Burnsville police and fire departments with a sign reminding them that they are appreciated and that we are thinking of them. We send cards periodically to the families of the fallen heroes, especially around the monthly shooting marks. The care team also plans to give gifts to Paul, Matthew, and Adam’s families between now and February 18, 2025. Additionally, a Burnsville Police Department Captain died of a heart attack on May 4 of this year. He had been on the force for 26 years, and his wife and family will also need support in the coming months. Our first gifts were on Mother’s Day, when we gave the grieving families gift cards to a local salon for some self-care. 

“The community, family, and friends will likely be there in the immediate aftermath, but the pain and grief continue long after the tragedy.”

—Patty Matthews, Moms Demand Action South Metro Chapter Lead

We waited to support the families in the early days following the shooting. We knew they were inundated with a lot of gifts and messages of support every day, and we wanted to be there for them when it started to wane. Honoring each family’s privacy was important to us. We reached out to the Chief of Police’s executive assistant and asked her to partner with us. We began bringing cards with stamps and she addressed and mailed them for us. After showing our respect for the family’s privacy, the executive assistant provided me with their addresses so I could mail our cards directly. 

She also told us about needs we otherwise would not have known. Paul Elmstrand used to run every day with his dog. His wife Cindy, now grieving while parenting their baby and their two-year-old, needs help walking the dog. Some of us on the care team walk the Elmstand’s dog regularly. My husband and I are two of those people. In May, we talked with Cindy after one of those walks. The week of that walk was Police Week, when fallen heroes were being recognized at the state capitol. This was understandably an extremely hard week for her, and we were grateful to be helpful, even in a small way. 

Patty Matthews wears dark jeans and a black puffy vest layered over hot pink zip-up jacket. Patty is holding a leash in her right hand; the border collie she is walking sits on the sidewalk next to her.
Patty Matthews with Paul Elmstrand’s dog.

Every day in the United States, more than 120 people are killed with guns. More than two hundred are shot and wounded, and countless others are impacted by acts of gun violence. If you are looking to support those who are grieving in your community, here are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Wait. The community, family, and friends will likely be there in the immediate aftermath, but the pain and grief continue long after the tragedy. Cindy mentioned that there was a lot of support for the first month and a half, and then it tapered off. The months ahead are full of opportunities to show support. Loved ones may struggle with isolation when the support decreases. 
  2. Certain times may be harder than others. Sending cards and notes around the monthly or yearly marks of a tragedy along with holidays and birthdays will likely be appreciated. 

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