‘Officer down’: Two dreaded words became officer Ryan Sheak’s reality

When White Bear Lake officer Ryan Sheak went to work on Jan. 24, it was a normal day for him, his wife, and three children. But when the day ended, life was anything but normal. 

Officer Ryan Sheak/White Bear Lake Police Department

When most people leave for work, they don’t wonder whether they’ll return at the end of the day. They don’t ask whether they should call their spouse to say goodbye because their bodies were pierced by bullets. Their family members don’t fear a knock on the door will lead to news their loved one has been injured or killed.

But that’s life for more than 60,000 Minnesotans who serve as law enforcement officers, first responders, fire fighters, and military personnel.

Just last month, 34 police officers were shot while on duty in the United States — an increase of more than 100 percent from 2020. With three shootings in January, Minnesota tops the list, along with California and Texas (with significantly larger population bases).

When White Bear Lake officer Ryan Sheak went to work on Jan. 24, it was a normal day for him, his wife, and three children. But when the day ended, life was anything but normal.

Sheak sustained multiple gunshot wounds when he and his partners attempted to serve Daniel Holmgren with a felony warrant for domestic assault. The incident resulted in a protracted standoff during which neighbors evacuated their homes to ensure their safety.

Holmgren was no stranger to the White Bear Lake police. He has a history of domestic assault, as well as multiple civil commitments for mental illness. He and Sheak had interacted before.

Holmgren was charged with attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault on a police officer. With bail set at $3 million, he’s scheduled to appear in court next month.

Late last week, flanked by his family, Sheak stepped out of the hospital and into a crowd of well-wishers who’d brought tears, cheers, and hugs. As he recovers at home from multiple surgeries, his future is unclear, though the journey is expected to be long and arduous.

Sheak has a lot to process. He’s used to helping others. He’s unaccustomed to the publicity that a shooting like his generates. He and his family are proud and private people who must come to terms with the fact that two terrifying words — “officer down” — became their reality.

Sheak described the complexity of his situation. “The officer has to survive the incident, recover, provide a statement, and write a report reliving the incident; navigate possible legal issues; rehab, rebound, retrain; and return back to work. All the while I am still a husband and father. I have a wife and three kids, ages 13, 11, and 9 that are trying to navigate a reality we all wish would never happen, but it did, and there is nothing we can do about it. All we can do is take one day at a time and support each other.”

It’s no small irony that Sheak is a board member of a nonprofit committed to helping individuals who are injured or killed in the line of duty.

The Front Line Foundation’s primary function is to provide a death benefit to Minnesota law enforcement officers, first responders, EMS, and National Guard members. A secondary purpose is to provide financial support to families like Sheak’s to address needs which might not be covered by insurance or other benefits. For example, while insurance might cover counseling for Sheak, it may not provide coverage for family members who might also benefit from it.

The shooting of an officer in the 25,000-resident White Bear Lake community has a far-reaching impact, particularly for The Front Line Foundation.

CEO Suzanne Holt explained that she and her family live in the White Bear Lake area. Her son attends high school less than two miles from where Holmgren shot Sheak. Her brother, Brent Rohlik, is close friends with Sheak and his family. Rohlik, co-chair and co-founder of the foundation, recruited Sheak to serve on the board.

Moreover, Sheak says, “I also have three partners who went to war with me and also have to deal with the burdens of that day.”

It’s a heavy burden but it need not be borne alone. Sheak’s family reluctantly agreed to the foundation creating a “beyond the call of duty” fundraiser. The online fundraiser enables donors to make tax-deductible donations to the nonprofit, which will pass them on to the family. Funds will help to fill any financial gaps for Sheak and his family.

As of last week, more than 170 individuals had contributed. While grateful, Holt says they’re short of the goal.

Be it as a DARE officer, training officer, patrol officer, or crisis negotiator for the Ramsey County SWAT team, for six years Sheak has stepped up to help the residents and businesses of White Bear Lake. Now he and his family are dealing with their own crisis. What a great opportunity for the community to step forward for them.


Caryn Sullivan
 | Website

A retired attorney and author of the award-winning memoir, "Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page," Caryn Sullivan has inspired readers with her thoughtful commentary for the past two decades. To learn more about Caryn’s work or to connect, visit carynmsullivan.com