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Family of Slain Officer Shaken by 2nd Tragic Death

April 02, 1985|SCOTT HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

Charles Riggs was 31 years old and the unhappy proprietor of a printing business. He wanted more time to be with his seven children, so he filled out some job applications. The best opportunity, it seemed, came from the San Diego Police Department. "It just kind of happened," his daughter recalled.

But Charles Riggs took pride in his job, working 20 years and retiring in 1982 as a sergeant. And three years before his career ended, he watched his son, Thomas, graduate from the police academy. Charles Riggs pinned the badge on his son's uniform.

Charles and Anne Riggs will bury their son on Wednesday. Thomas Edward Riggs, 27, was shot to death Monday night in a wild brawl that also resulted in critical wounds to Officer Donovon Jacobs and less severe wounds to a civilian, Sara Pena-Ruiz, who was riding along in Riggs' patrol car.

A man apparently wrestled the pistol from Jacobs' holster and started firing. Sagon Aahmes Penn, 23, who fled in Jacobs' patrol car, turned himself in less than an hour after the shooting.

For the Riggs family, there is a sad sense of deja vu. In September, San Diego Police Officer Timothy Ruopp was abruptly gunned down with another officer while trying to issue misdemeanor drinking citations. Ruopp was married to the Riggs' daughter, Kathy.

Bereaved again, the Riggs family huddled together on Monday with a few close friends in their large home in National City. Kathy Ruopp lost her husband and now she has lost her brother. The rest of the family shared in Kathy's loss and now acutely feel their own. Tim Ruopp is survived by his wife and four children; Tom Riggs by his wife, Coleen, and young son, Adam.

Charles Riggs answered the phone in a solemn tone. He said he wasn't up to speaking and handed the phone to his daughter, 30-year-old Sally. She spoke in a soft voice that sometimes broke and sometimes gave way to brief laughter with happy memories.

"We're all numb," she said. "You cry a little and then you kind of sit there, unbelieving."

The job of law enforcement, Sally recalled, had never seemed dangerous when her father was working.

"The most he ever came home with was scraped knuckles when he'd try to break up a fight or something," she said. "We never even worried. My mom might have, but we never did. He'd never have anything worse than that.

"He enjoyed it. He'd get a little cynical and unhappy with the justice system--that was hard--but he was always proud of his job."

Charles Riggs was still in the Air Force and studying at Syracuse University when he met Anne, a fellow student. They were married in 1952, and within nine years had a large family.

First there was Sally, born in 1954. Then there was Kathy, then Vickie, Tommy, Nancy, Patty, and finally the youngest, Michael, born in 1961. "Catholic," Sally said with a laugh. The Riggses also had a foster daughter, Kelly, who lived with the family through high school and college. Over time, Charles Riggs had left the Air Force and moved to the San Diego area, winding up in the printing business and then with the police.

The flag that Charles Riggs flies daily outside his home was at half-staff Monday. In happier times, the home was distinguished by the way the seven children had transformed it into a neighborhood social center.

"When the kids would get together, they'd say, 'Let's go over to Riggs'," recalled Russell Shubert, who coached Tom when he played football at Sweetwater High School.

To his high school friends, Tom Riggs was known as a regular guy. "He was a party guy . . . he wasn't a goodie-two-shoes. He was always out having a good time. But you knew he wanted to be a police officer," recalled Bob Strahan, who now works for a lumber company in Los Angeles. Several of Riggs' high school friends also became police officers.

Riggs' friends said he was sociable and had a good sense of humor. His listing in the 1975 Sweetwater High yearbook shows that he played football as a sophomore and junior, wrestled as a sophomore, and was a member of the "Hi-Y" Lettermen's Club and the "Float Committee" for Homecoming. "We built floats over at Tom's house," Strahan recalled.

Tom Riggs, according to the yearbook, "will most remember the Hi-Y beach parties." Moreover, Tom "hopes to get out of National City forever."

He didn't go far. Riggs entered Southwestern Community College and took criminal justice course in preparation for a police career. He also met Coleen, got married, had a son and bought a home in El Cajon, one that he was busy remodeling.

Tom Riggs graduated from the San Diego Police Academy in 1979. Police officials said his goal was to become a narcotics investigator. He worked as patrol officer, then became qualified as an evidence technician, and was promoted to agent on July 13, 1984.

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