When Ryan A. Hummert set out to be a firefighter, his friends and family alike knew there would be some risk.
But that knowledge did little to prepare them for the way he died Monday.
The 22-year-old rookie firefighter -- on the job for a little over three months -- was ambushed and shot while battling what appeared to be a routine truck fire in Maplewood. Also injured were two police officers who responded to the scene, where an armed man shot them in the 7400 block of Zephyr Place.
News of Hummert's death spread quickly across the region, bringing dozens of friends, former classmates and teammates to gather at Hummert's neighbor's house in unincorporated St. Louis County near Fenton. Hummert lived with his parents.
Throughout the day, they streamed in and out of the house, paying their respects. Reluctant to talk about their loss, they asked to be left in peace.
"We all just lost a brother," said one woman outside the home, who asked not to be identified.
Hummert went to work for the city of Maplewood in August after he graduated from paramedic school. He embarked on his firefighting career earlier this year when he secured a spot in the 74th class of the St. Louis County Fire Academy. He graduated in March and joined the Maplewood Fire Department.
Wherever he went, the 2004 graduate of Rockwood Summit High School left a trail of friends.
On the social networking site Facebook, a page was set up to honor the fallen firefighter. By 6 p.m., more than 320 people -- a mix of friends and complete strangers -- had joined the group, named "Rest in peace Ryan Hummert-Maplewood Firefighter Line of duty death."
"Ryan was a leader, a standup guy, someone we all looked up to and will never be forgotten," wrote one of his friends.
It was the same story in high school, where coaches and teammates recall Hummert as a strong competitor and solid student.
"He was just one of those lovable guys," said Justin Brady, a sophomore during Hummert's senior year, when he was a football team captain.
The last time Brady saw Hummert was around the first of the year, when a bunch of old friends and classmates got together. Brady remembers Hummert talking about getting into the Fire Academy.
"It was something he was really excited about doing," Brady said.
It was an attitude that carried over into his class, where he made an impression on chief instructor Dave Schmalzer.
"He had a passion," Schmalzer said. "All the young kids do."
Like so many other members of the community, Schmalzer spent a good portion of Monday wondering about what happened and what went wrong. In the end, he said, he doesn't believe the academy could have done anything more to prepare the rookie firefighter.
"We teach safety as an attitude," he said. "We teach them a lot of things. But something like this, there's just no way."
That Hummert would have gone to work for the city of Maplewood is not surprising. His father is former Mayor Andrew Hummert, who served from 1983 to 1993 before being forced from office by term limits. But his relationship to the city has continued to this day.
Marty Corcoran, longtime Maplewood city manager, is a close friend of the family's. Last weekend, he went on a float trip with the elder Hummert. Choking back tears, he described having to tell the firefighter's father this morning that his son was dead.
A neighbor of nine years, David Schweiss, went to Hummert's home on Indian Summer Drive and placed a line of American flags alongside the side of the house and then put three flags in front of his home.
"I just wanted to put the flags up to show respect for the family," said Schweiss, whose two children went to school with Hummert. "I felt heartbroken and sad for his family. He's a firefighter, and he did a lot for our country."
At Maplewood City Hall, residents began dropping off flowers for a makeshift memorial there. Firefighters and public works employees hung black and purple bunting outside the firehouse and City Hall.