He was a veteran who later lamented America’s involvement in Iraq. He lived in suburban Virginia but hailed from a small town in New Jersey, the youngest of three brothers. And he was serving in his dream job as a police officer when he met his death this week in the chaos and violence that unfolded in the nation’s capital.
U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, died Thursday from injuries he suffered during the pro-Trump riot that breached the U.S. Capitol. He had served overseas in the New Jersey Air National Guard in support of the war in Afghanistan, eventually attaining a lifelong goal of becoming a police officer.
Praise for his service poured in from family and elected officials Friday, and neighbors and coworkers recalled fond memories of his compassionate behavior, “kind face” and love of fishing.
Police have not confirmed the circumstances of Sicknick’s death but said he “was injured while physically engaging with protesters” Wednesday. He returned to his division office and collapsed, then was taken to a local hospital where he died around 9:30 p.m. Thursday. According to two law enforcement officials who spoke to the Associated Press, Sicknick was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher.
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Flags were at half-staff in his Sicknick’s hometown of South River, New Jersey, Friday as police patrolled the family’s neighborhood, which was quiet. A local church had already designated Friday as a Day of Lamentation, Prayer and Fasting in response to a national crisis, and clergy there were caught by surprise to learn the crisis had hit close to home.
“Here in this small, New Jersey town, all of a sudden a national disaster, a national tragedy, comes very close to home,” the Rev. Gregory Bezilla, rector at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in South River, said. “This family is so well-known in the community. The town is in shock, as we all are. It strikes at the heart.”
A 1997 graduate of Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School, Sicknick “wanted to be a police officer his entire life,” his brother Ken Sicknick, said in a statement. He joined the New Jersey Air National Guard the year he graduated “as a means to that end,” Sicknick said.
Sicknick didn’t shy away from advocacy and, at first, supported the war in Iraq. He wrote to the Home News Tribune, his local newspaper, at least six times over the course of his life. In 1998, Sicknick argued that the U.S. should take a tougher stance against Iraq leader Saddam Hussein, suggesting the U.S. launch an aerial assault. “Diplomacy has its place, but it won’t keep in this situation,” he wrote.
Sicknick deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1999 in support of Operation Southern Watch. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he served in Kyrgyzstan in support of the war in Afghanistan. While stateside, Sicknick served as a security police officer for the 108th Air Refueling Wing out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Phoenix.
Sicknick “served his country honorably” and made his family “very proud,” his brother said. Sicknick was honorably discharged in 2003, according to Lt. Col. Barbara Brown, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey National Guard.
Letters show doubts about war
Sicknick, however, seems to have later soured not only on the war but also the strategy used by George W. Bush’s administration. He eventually saw the war as a defense of America’s reliance on oil and advocated higher gasoline taxes to discourage motorists from driving SUVs.
“Our troops are stretched very thin, and morale is dangerously low among them,” he wrote to the Home News Tribune in 2003. “I’m starting to see an increasing trend of soldiers asking, ‘Why are we still here?'”
The Home News Tribune is part of the USA TODAY Network and the Atlantic Group of Gannett.
After his military service, Sicknick worked for a time as a custodian at a school in Cranbury, New Jersey, according to public records and school and library administrators.
His lifelong dream came to fruition in 2008, when he joined the U.S. Capitol Police, most recently serving in the First Responder Unit. Public records indicate Sicknick had relocated to Virginia and was living in Springfield.
In a statement, Kim Kosa-Tita, a representative for the Sicknick family, said Sicknick was committed to rescuing Dachshunds in his spare time. He enjoyed relaxing at home, watching movies, and listening to his favorite comedian, Jimmy Norton. “Despite his private persona, Officer Sicknick’s excitement and love for the NJ Devils could never be denied,” the statement said.
Putting politics aside ‘to comfort a friend’
At the tidy, U-shaped townhouse complex where Sicknick lived in Springfield, neighbors described him as low-key and unfailingly amiable and compassionate, always smiling and eager to ask how about their lives as he walked his two aging dachshunds around the wooded development.
“He always took the time to stop and ask how you were doing,” said Londi Guerra, 28. “He was very kind, very loving toward his animals.” One of the dogs was blind and Sicknick often could be seen carrying it.
Lynda Pinguli, 40, said she was told by another neighbor that Sicknick had an ominous feeling about Wednesday’s events at the Capitol. He was worried that he might not “be back home,” Pignuli said through tears. “He was just mild-mannered – always positive and smiling.”
In Washington, D.C., Caroline Behringer, a former staffer who worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, recalled Sicknick greeting her every morning when she arrived at south entrance of the U.S. Capitol.
“He was the first face I saw every morning when I came to work,” she recalled of her time working for Pelosi, who was then the House minority leader.
Sicknick was a quiet, “kind face” and the pair bonded over their love of the outdoors, she said. He often talked about how much he looked forward to getting outside and fishing once he was off of work.
As the 2016 election neared, Behringer said she and Sicknick, a supporter of the then-candidate Donald Trump, traded barbs and joked whether he would prevail over the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“We would kind of trade jabs about who was going to win and kind of make fun of each other for our sides being in the lead,” she said.
The day after the election, Nov. 9, 2016, Behringer recalled being devastated by the outcome and struggling to face the day as she approached the Capitol building. As she walked up, the doors had been thrown open by two other officers, a request made by Sicknick when he saw her approaching.
“I collapsed into him in tears and I knew he was a Trump supporter – he was an outspoken Trump supporter – and he put that aside in that moment to comfort a friend and it was a small gesture of kindness, but one that has always stuck with me,” she said.
Behringer said she’s spoken to a number of people who work on on the hill who are heartbroken by Sicknick’s loss, emphasizing the officers there are not just Capitol Police but also family.
“At the same time that there was an attack on our country, there was an invasion on our home and an attack on our family,” she said. “They were in our offices, they were attacking our friends and family and I think that’s just incredibly hard for people to process.”
Tributes have also poured in from elected officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.
“Officer Sicknick gave his life protecting the United States Capitol, and by extension, our very democracy, from violent insurrection,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “His needless murder at the hands of a mob bent on overthrowing the Constitution he had dedicated his life to upholding is shocking.”
Officials said Sicknick’s death is being investigated by D.C. Metropolitan Police’s homicide unit. Any criminal charges related to Sicknick’s death will be federal because the events leading up to it happened on federal property, an official with knowledge of the matter said.
“Many details regarding Wednesday’s events and the direct causes of Brian’s injuries remain unknown and our family asks the public and the press to respect our wishes in not making Brian’s passing a political issue,” Ken Sicknick said. “Please honor Brian’s life and service and respect our privacy while we move forward in doing the same. Brian is a hero and that is what we would like people to remember.”
Sicknick is the sixth U.S Capitol Police officer to die in the line of duty, according to the nonprofit Officer Down Memorial Page. He is survived by his parents, two brothers, and his longtime girlfriend of 11 years.
Contributing: Kristine Phillips, Tom Vanden Brook and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY; Suzanne Russell and Greg Tufaro, MyCentralJersey.com