“There is no doubt in my heart and my soul that there would have been more lives lost” if (Rick) Riggenbach had not confronted Wilbert Thibodeaux. bLAISE sMITH, Chitimacha Tribal police chief
FRANKLIN — Hundreds of Louisiana law enforcement officers joined Chitimacha Tribal Police and Sgt. Rick Riggenbach’s family to say goodbye Thursday to the slain 52-year-old veteran officer.
Riggenbach was killed Saturday as he responded to a call about a man with a gun walking down Flat Town Road in Charenton.
“There is no doubt in my heart and my soul that there would have been more lives lost” if Riggenbach had not confronted Wilbert Thibodeaux, Chitimacha Tribal Police Chief Blaise Smith said.
Thibodeaux, 48, is accused of setting fire to a mobile home, in the slaying of Eddie Lyons, 78, who was inside, and in the shootings of Riggenbach and two St. Mary Parish sheriff’s deputies, Matthew Strickland, 24, and Jason Javier, 23, as they responded.
Both deputies were wounded, but officials said they are recuperating.
Javier used a walker Thursday at the funeral, his left leg stiff and left arm bandaged as emergency medical technicians from Acadian Ambulance hovered around him.
More than 500 people packed The Crossing Place Fellowship church in Franklin. About 400 of those wore uniforms, from State Police to an officer from Jonesville, from federal officers with the Department of the Interior to the Bayou Vista Volunteer Fire Department.
Riggenbach leaves behind his wife, Bonnie, three daughters and one son.
“We’re paying our respects,” said Capt. Becket Breaux, head of State Police Troop I in Lafayette, one of at least 40 troopers in attendance.
“It’s a great loss when we lose someone in uniform,” Breaux said.
They came to remember, or to get to know, Riggenbach, who had been a Chitimacha tribal police officer for the past four years and a 15-year veteran of law enforcement in Morgan City.
He was a good-natured man with a wry sense of humor, whose voice carried authority and whose head was never without a cap, who tried to re-enlist in the military after 9/11 without his wife knowing, said the Rev. Dan Cregan, whose church in Bayou Vista Riggenbach and his wife, Bonnie, attended.
He was an avid outdoorsman who wore a mustache all his adult life, a Star Wars fan who played in a rock band when he was young and in the U.S. Navy, Cregan said.
He also was a “strong believer in the Second Amendment,” Cregan said to “Amens” throughout the church, and he was a lawman who believed in capital punishment, Cregan said to stronger “Amens.”
“Each day he’d leave for work, his wife would say ‘Come back to me tonight,’” Cregan said to a room hushed except for sniffles.
Thibodeaux, of Charenton, is being held in the St. Mary Parish Correctional Center on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of arson in the Saturday morning incident.
The District Attorney’s Office has not formally charged Thibodeaux.
Thibodeaux’s neighbors said recently they believe he’s mentally ill. State Police, the agency leading the investigation, has declined to comment on specifics of the case pending its completion.