CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) - Condolences are pouring in from around the state as local law enforcement mourns the death of one of its own.
Conway Police Officer Nathan Riddle died of pneumonia last weekend at the age of 35, but his work ethic, sense of duty, and love of life will remain with those who knew him.
“The last time he was at my house,” Officer Thad Burrow began.
“It was this time last year, I guess,” Officer Brittany Byrd interjected.
“We had a bonfire,” Burrow continued, “and I invited some people over from shift to come out and cut up. And he was in the kitchen with my youngest daughter, who was 16, and she was teaching him how to floss.”
Three of Riddle’s former colleagues shared stories and reflections Tuesday, two days after his passing.
“I was just speaking to him,” Burrow added, “literally just a few days before he went into the hospital. And it’s, you know, he’s gone and then you’re having to come to terms with that. It’s just unreal.”
All three friends mentioned that Riddle loved to perform, especially during Karaoke Night.
“He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” said Sgt. Jake Moss of the University of Central Arkansas Police Department. “It just takes a while for Riddle to get to know you. And once he does, he’s just absolutely hilarious.”
Byrd and Moss added that humor followed Riddle even when he was trying to make them laugh.
“That was one of the funniest things: watching him, the big -- you know, his shoulders are about that wide,” Moss said, holding his hands far apart, “walking down the road with this little Shih Tzu.”
Byrd now cares for Kennedy, Riddle’s 11-year-old dog. She described him as a big man with a bigger heart.
“He was also a very understanding and reliable person,” she added. “I mean, you could count on him. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life.”
Riddle served for two years with the Conway Police Department. Prior to that, he rose to the rank of sergeant with UCAPD. He also was a police officer at Camp Robinson (and completed the fire academy there) and served two tours in the Marines.
“He was one of the well-respected officers on our shift,” Byrd said. “He worked on shift with Officer Burrow and I, and he was one of the guys that they look up to and ask for advice, and stuff. He’s definitely done a lot for a lot of people, whether those people even know him or not. He’s been doing it his whole life.”
Conway PD announced his death Sunday, and thousands of people shared, reacted to, and commented on its Facebook post. Several other agencies--including the Little Rock Police Department, Searcy Police Department, and UCAPD — sent sympathies via social media.
“It’s one thing,” Burrow said, “to deal with what we do on a day-to-day basis, but when it hits this close to home, it’s definitely, it’s definitely a little tougher.
“I mean, we’re all a big family, so we all kind of take a hit when a fellow officer passes away for whatever reason.”
Burrow said Riddle inspired his fellow officers to work their hardest and train to the best of their abilities.
“I just think it was an honor to know him and to be a part of his life,” he said. “Not only for him to be a part of mine but for me to have been a part of his and to know him. And, you know, just the sacrifice that he’s made for the community and the country, it’s just something to look up to. And I’m a better person for being next to him and a part of his journey.”
Byrd said his shocking death has refocused her perspective on life. “It just kind of makes you realize to stop and just appreciate the people and the things around you,” she said. “I know it definitely has had that effect on me.”
“He’s really helped me through a lot in life, and he’s one of the toughest, funniest, most gentle people that I have ever met,” Moss added. “We were really close. My kids called him Uncle Riddle. He’s gonna be missed, for sure. He’d come meet my son—one of my sons—and I at the basketball court, and he would just be there, and it would lighten the mood whenever he was around.”
As his three friends continued to share stories, they came back to moments that made them laugh. Moss, who first met Riddle during UCAPD academy in 2005, brought up a light moment that made a tough man afraid.
“I would say my favorite memory of him was when we all went on a canoe trip,” he recalled. I don’t think he’d ever been in a canoe before. And there were four of us that went… we had just gotten started, just put our canoes in—Riddle and I were in a canoe together—and it tipped over. And he was just absolutely freaking out.”
“He couldn’t swim,” Byrd added “He couldn’t swim.”
“And, you know, I’m trying to hold onto the canoe and fishing rods, and other things,” Moss went on, “and I hear behind me, ‘Riddle, put your feet down! Riddle, put your feet down!’ He just stopped all of a sudden, put his feet down, and stood up, and he was in water up to his waist. He thought for sure he was drowning.
“And that was one of the best times I’ve ever had, was going on that trip with him.”
Visitation for Nathan Riddle take place Friday from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at New St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Pine Bluff (3301 South Fir Street). The funeral will be Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Highland Missionary Baptist Church (1320 South Peach Street).
The Conway Police Department has established an account in Riddle’s name at Centennial Bank. It is also selling bracelets, which may be purchased by calling (501) 450-6120 or emailing LaTresha Woodruff at Latresha.firstname.lastname@example.org. All proceeds will go toward establishing a lasting memorial in Riddle’s honor.