Chief Daniel Llorens of the Fountain Valley Police Department in California sadly reports the passing of Officer Rick Nilos. When a young man unexpectedly dies in his prime, it sends a shock wave through the community. And that is the case here.

Rick was only 35 years old, and appeared to be in exceptional health. Yet without explanation he died in his sleep yesterday. An official cause of death is pending.

This one is personal

But this one hit close to home since my career overlapped with Rick’s. Due to professional circumstances, I was able to have several deeply personal conversations with him that ordinarily would not be available to two colleagues with an age gap of 20 years. The dialogue continued even as I retired and moved out of state. As a result, please indulge me as I tell you about this fine man who chose a career in public service; a man that was my friend.

vertxGlimpse of Officer Rick Nilos

Rick Nilos was an 11-year law enforcement veteran. Prior to police work, he served as a United States Marine Infantryman and was among the first to enter and liberate Iraq under fire in 2003 as part of the First Marine Division.

Rick was a recipient of many accolades for his tenure as a motor officer assigned to the Traffic Bureau and was a certified Motorcycle Training Officer. He received over 40 commendations – from Traffic Court referees, victims of crime or vehicle collisions, and even people he issued tickets to! He was a recipient of the Department’s Medal of Valor for his actions during a gun battle against a deranged gunman armed with an assault rifle in 2010. I briefly discussed this incident in an article titled, Correlating Violent Video Games and Death a few months ago.

Harrowing rescue

Rick Nilos was also twice the recipient of the Department’s Medal for Lifesaving. All lifesaving efforts are heroic, but some stand above others. He had such a moment, and I was reminded of this when scrolling through hundreds of shares on social media last night. I came across one written by Jeremy Maddux, a man that started his career at our police department:

It was a pleasure working with you and a greater pleasure knowing you. You encouraged me to grow in my pursuit of becoming a police officer. You changed the lives of my entire family when you crawled in the back seat of my sister’s mangled car and saved her life, not knowing who she was. You’re a true hero and will be missed. 

This was a bold rescue by Rick, because he knew moving her could potentially cause paralysis. Yet her airway was obstructed and had to be opened. It was a thrill to see her in attendance months later when he was presented a medal for saving her life.

I reached out to Jeremy while preparing this article. He told me Rick not only saved his sister-Jamie’s life, but stopped by the hospital to see the family. While there he left his unity strength bracelet for her.

The traumatic collision occurred in May of 2011. Last June, Jeremy had the honor of officiating Jamie’s wedding. And Rick was in attendance to share in their glorious day. “Having Rick at the wedding was an honor and blessing for us all,” said Jeremy. “And people on both sides of the family kept coming up to him to thank him and shake his hand for his heroic actions.”

Man of many talents

Furthermore, Rick was a member of the Department Color Guard, the West County SWAT Crisis Negotiation Team and the Department’s Peer Support Team.

Yet his most important role was that of a husband and father to three boys.

Faith is important in life, it’s vital in death

While we celebrate his life, honor his memory, and mourn for his family, I reflect back to our uniquely private conversations. He shared with me his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

As such, I was able to express a personal faith journey that I had recently experienced in the passing of my father. I shared with him that 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 in the Bible was something that all followers of Christ can claim:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on the immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

The words from Apostle Paul have remained alive in history. And they certainly resonate when mourning the passing of one we love. He wrote earlier in the same chapter, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

I feel sorrow as we say goodbye to Rick and pray that God will provide peace and strength to his family. As relational beings, the pain of departure penetrates each layer of emotion. Yet I believe we simply mourn for ourselves, but can rejoice as he now stands in the presence of our heavenly Father!

Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today