Bryan Rickards, an Abington Township police officer, was exactly the kind of guy you'd want by your side in a crisis. A K-9 officer, emergency vehicle operator, medic, and firearms instructor, he could handle any police call.
"He was just the most funny, witty person. He'd make you smile no matter what," said Officer Tom Nyman, his colleague and best friend. "But when you were working, and things got bad, he could be a tough guy."
In February 2017, Officer Rickards was 19 years and four months into his career when tragedy struck. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
He fought to live as normally as possible between treatments for the debilitating disease. The public, inspired by his courage, rallied around him and his family, contributing $32,000 to a GoFundMe page.
On Monday, Aug. 6, after holding ALS at bay for nearly two years, Officer Rickards, 48, died at home in Warrington surrounded by his wife, Cindy, three children, and Nyman. The announcement of his death was made "with deep sadness" by Patrick Molloy, chief of the Abington Police Department.
His wife remained in seclusion, and his K-9 partner, Ivan, "is just lost without him," Nyman said. Now 11 and retired from patrol duty, the dog will work as protector of his master's family.
Officer Rickards was born in 1969 in Philadelphia. Though he had always wanted to be a police officer, he had only firefighters in his background. He graduated from George Washington High School in Northeast Philadelphia and from the Montgomery County Police Academy in 1997.
Officer Rickards served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1988 through 1992 at the Coast Guard Station at Beach Haven, N.J., as a medic and a rescue crewman.
Although he "always wanted to do something to help people," the role as medic pointed him toward police work, Nyman said.
In 1996, Officer Rickards joined the Abington police force as a patrolman. In November 2006, he joined the K-9 Unit. He trained with the New Jersey State Police and received certification to patrol with a dog and take the dog on drug and SWAT team assignments. His first dog was named Ransom. Ivan was his second dog.
Over the course of his career, Officer Rickards received many commendations for valor. He also was recognized for putting in almost 17 consecutive years of service without a sick day before his ALS diagnosis.
"In fact, Bryan continued to work during the early stages of this horrible disease," Molloy said in a tribute. "Officer Rickards was a warrior until the end, and he served as an example of the consummate public servant."
His wife plans to set up a foundation to help ALS patients and their families, Nyman said. The two met while both worked at the King of Prussia Mall. They married in 1998.
In addition to his wife, Officer Rickards is survived by daughters Abigail, 10, and Emily, 2, and a son, Gavin, 15.
A viewing will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, at the John F. Givnish Funeral Home, 10975 Academy Rd., Philadelphia. A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church, 81 Swamp Rd., Newtown. Burial with full military honors will be in Washington Crossing National Cemetery, Newtown.