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'We Will Cherish His Memory': A Family Remembers Slain Colorado Springs Officer Garrett Swasey

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Courtesy of University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Garrett Swasey had always wanted to be a police officer – but law enforcement was just one of his callings.

The 44-year-old officer who died in last week’s shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was a co-pastor at his church who spent all his free time with his family. For him, police work was just an extension of his life’s purpose: assisting others during their time of need.

“He was very proud of his faith and his family,” family friend Amy Oviatt tells PEOPLE. “That was what was most important to him.”

Swasey had been married to his wife, Rachel, for 17 years. They had two children: Faith, 6, and Elijah, 11.

With his sudden death, Swasey’s distraught family now faces the reality of life without him – and is determined to hold on to the good times. “We will cherish his memory,” the family said in a statement, “especially those times he spent tossing the football to his son and snuggling with his daughter on the couch.”

“His greatest joys were his family, his church, and his profession,” the family continued. “Helping others brought him deep satisfaction and being a police officer was a part of him.”

For more on the Planned Parenthood shooting and Swasey’s life, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

A Richly Lived Life

Swasey wasn’t even at the Planned Parenthood when the shooting began. He was more than 10 miles away, on the campus of the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs. He responded to the scene to assist other officers. He was hit with gunfire during the altercation and died at the scene.

A six-year veteran of the police force, Swasey had originally moved to Colorado Springs in the early 1990s to train as a champion ice dancer at the Olympic Training Center.

“He was like a little brother to me,” childhood friend Nancy Kerrigan, the decorated figure skater, told NBC News. “We trained together. He was always a positive hard-worker. A really funny guy. A great, great friend and a great listener.”

“His parents are devastated. The kids and wife are really hurting.” Kerrigan continued. “It’s just horrible.”

Swasey married Rachel in the late 1990s, and became very involved at church. At Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs, he led the worship teams and played guitar.

A fundraising page has been created for the Swasey family to start an education fund for his kids. “It was the least we could do,” says friend Amy Oviatt.

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An Ongoing Debate

Robert L. Dear, 57, was arrested Friday afternoon after a five-hour standoff at the clinic. He is charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center. He made his first court appearance on Monday.

While some witnesses have reported that Dear ranted about “baby parts,” during the standoff, a police spokeswoman tells PEOPLE that his motive is still unclear.

Leaders on both sides of the abortion debate have denounced the shootings.

“As much as I abhor what Planned Parenthood does, you change that through our system,” Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, tells PEOPLE. “You don’t just take a gun and start shooting the place up. You just can’t take the law into your own hands and start being a vigilante.”

“This is the kind of thing that we prepare for, but we hope never happens,” Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero tells PEOPLE. “If you’re a health center that provides abortions in this country, you have to be prepared for unthinkable acts of violence. Our hearts are broken.”

With reporting by ELAINE ARADILLAS and CHRISTINE PELISEK