Sgt. Mark Renninger, one of four Lakewood police officers slain Sunday, was a former Army Ranger, a nationally-known SWAT team trainer and the rock of his department — a man with such charisma and natural leadership skills that when he showed up at the scene, his fellow officers knew things were going to be all...

This is the first of four news obituaries on the slain Lakewood Police officers.

He was a former Army Ranger, a nationally known SWAT team trainer and the rock of his department — a man with such charisma and natural leadership skills that when he showed up at the scene, his fellow officers knew things were going to be all right.

So it seems an especially cruel irony that Lakewood Police Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39, was gunned down — executed, his fellow officers say — before he got a chance to fight back.

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The four Lakewood police officers who were killed Sunday “were executed because they were cops,” said Lakewood Police Officer Matt Brown. “But none of them saw their lives that way.”

Sgt. Renninger saw himself as a family man, Brown said. When he left the office, he left police work behind him.

The Puyallup father of three “was very, very devoted to his wife and kids,” said his brother Michael, of Bethlehem, Penn.

Sgt. Renninger met his wife, Kim, after he moved to Washington. The couple had three children: Ashley, 15, Allyson, 12, and Nicholas, 3. “He always did different things to make sure his kids were having a good time,” his brother said.

Michael Renninger brought his own family out to Washington for a visit with his big brother in July, and said it was one of the best family vacations he’d ever had. The families took trips to Seattle and Mount Rainier, and went to a Mariners game. They barbecued on the grill at Sgt. Renninger’s handsome newer home in a Puyallup subdivision.

This week, police officers from area jurisdictions kept round-the-clock vigils at that home. Neighbors dropped flowers off at a small street-corner memorial to Sgt. Renninger, while hundreds visited a much larger memorial to all four officers in front of the Lakewood Police Department.

Michael’s been told that his brother was one of two officers who were shot first by gunman Maurice Clemmons, and that he had no chance to react.

“That’s what’s hurting me, thinking how well he was trained and how devoted he was to the training,” he said.

“This was such a cowardly act, and he had no chance.”

Mark Renninger grew up in Bethlehem, Penn., the second of six children. He was a star football player at Liberty High School and, as a senior, was courted by coaches to play college football. Instead, he chose to join the Army, Michael Renninger said.

Growing up, Michael said his brother was “very funny, just great to be around.” Remembering the day his big brother left for Army boot camp, Michael choked back his emotions.

“He was 18, I was 12,” he said. “I was at the recruiter’s station, and I remember crying because he was leaving.”

In the 1990s, Sgt. Renninger was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., when he was accepted into the elite Army Rangers. Mike Sienda, who now works in Army Intelligence in Charlottesville, Va., got to know him well.

The group would parachute into a remote area, navigate through the woods at night and carry out a mission. In those exercises, Renninger shone. “Mark was a leader even when he was a junior soldier,” Sienda said.

But Sgt. Renninger was also personable and well-liked by his fellow officers. “He was a great kid, always funny, cracking jokes,” Sienda said. “He had a lot of friends. He was an easygoing person.

“When I think back on those times, those were some of the best times in my career because of Mark,” said Sienda, who kept up with Sgt. Renninger over the years by phone and e-mail.

After Fort Benning, Sgt. Renninger moved to Fort Lewis to join the Second Ranger Battalion. When he left the Army, it was no surprise to brother Michael that he chose police work.

“He had this strong will and strong desire to be there and to help people,” Michael said. “Law enforcement was his passion.”

Sgt. Renninger joined the Tukwila Police Department and worked there from 1996 to 2004, and also served as president of the Tukwila police guild. “He just really had a natural skill for police work,” said Tukwila Assistant Police Chief Mike Villa.

“He was very persistent in pursuing the criminals. He was also a very intelligent and smart police officer — he didn’t take unnecessary risks.”

Villa said Sgt. Renninger had an innate ability to make split-second decisions and worked well in a team. “I’ve been on many SWAT call-outs with him, and he consistently operated well in that environment,” Villa said. “He was one of my top performers.”

As with the other officers, Villa, too, is stunned that one of his best-trained officers, a man with a special talent for recognizing threats and a trainer who emphasized officer safety, could be gunned down in a senseless shooting.

“It’s really difficult,” Villa said. “Mark had a lot of friends at Tukwila. He was working in a world where we’re dealing with criminals who may want to hurt us. Mark was real cognizant of that.”

In 2004, he left Tukwila to join the newly formed Lakewood department. He became the leader of an interjurisdictional SWAT team, called the Metro SWAT team, made up of smaller cities around Tacoma.

“There are few people I look up to, and Mark was one of the few,” said Brown, the Lakewood officer, who is also a member of the Metro SWAT team. “You knew when he showed up that things were going to be all right.”

Sgt. Renninger was on the executive board of the Washington State Tactical Officers Association, a statewide law-enforcement group dedicated to SWAT team training. And he was known around the United States for his SWAT training work, said Tom Fitzgerald, the association’s president and a leader on the Seattle SWAT team.

When a SWAT incident took place elsewhere in the country, Sgt. Renninger would call the officers who were involved and find out what went well and what went wrong, always looking for ways to improve SWAT tactics, said Sgt. Jeff Selleg of the Port of Seattle Police, who is also on the association’s executive board.

“He had such a vast network of friends and contacts,” Selleg said.

“He was tremendously dedicated to his family,” he added.

In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by four brothers, Matthew, Marty, Michael and John; a sister, Melissa; and his mother, Nancy.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or