WEST FARGO — Lt. Adam Gustafson was working his regular shift Tuesday, May 18, but he hadn't been feeling well and decided it would be best to go home and rest.

The 40-year-old family man and 10-year veteran of the West Fargo Police Department never made it home. He suffered a medical emergency at the police station and was rushed to Sanford Emergency Medical Center where he later died.

On Wednesday, the Cass County Coroner’s Office said Gustafson suffered from severe coronary artery disease and major arterial blockage, causing a sudden, fatal heart attack.

City staff called the media to West Fargo City Hall just before 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Police Chief Denis Otterness, along with Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner, West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller and Mayor Bernie Dardis, announced Gustafson's death just before 3 p.m.

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Otterness said Gustafson was given first aid by members of the police and fire departments before he was taken to the hospital.

Adam Gustafson
Adam Gustafson

“Lt. Gustafson will be remembered for his contagious smile and laughter, along with his dedication, teamwork and service to the city of West Fargo,” Otterness said in a statement. “Lt. Gustafson has made a lasting impact within our department, and he will never be forgotten.”

Tuesday and Wednesday, city and police staff were reeling from the sudden loss of the man who left behind a wife, Amber, and young family.

"He was a fantastic officer, a fantastic dad," Dardis said, Wednesday. "He and his wife were a dynamic couple."

Gustafson joined the West Fargo Police Department more than 10 years ago. In 2016, then a sergeant, Gustafson was awarded the Commendable Service Award for his actions as a representative of West Fargo police.

The award was given out during a ceremony honoring many West Fargo officers who assisted with an armed standoff in March of that year, just a month after Fargo Police Officer Jason Moszer was fatally shot while responding to a domestic disturbance call in Fargo.

West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness addresses the media in regards to a death that occurred at the police department on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness addresses the media in regards to a death that occurred at the police department on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

"He (Gustafson) was very personable and well-liked throughout City Hall," longtime Commissioner Mark Simmons said. "Adam's passing is a huge loss for our entire community. Our prayers go out to his family as well as the entire police department."

Although the decorated officer rose through the ranks of the West Fargo Police Department to the position of lieutenant, he will be remembered for more than his dedication to the badge. His empathetic and lighthearted approach to the community made him beloved to those who knew him.

Many city staff and community members took to social media to remember the fun and caring personality of Gustafson. Some shared photos of the easy way he communicated, and others posted videos that highlighted his laugh and sense of humor. One video showed him pulling off a fairly successful cartwheel to impress young visitors to the West Fargo Police Headquarters.

West Fargo City Hall was closed after the incident Tuesday, and the Cass County Sheriff's Office handled calls for the police department. City Hall reopened Wednesday, but the Sheriff's Office and Fargo police continued to assist with calls as needed. Some staff returned to the police headquarters Wednesday afternoon.

Allowing the department to process and mourn the loss by allowing another department to assist is common practice.

"For the life and death and critical decisions that police officers make, it is so very important in how they deal with their job that it is not uncommon where a neighboring department will assist, because those officers, they're distraught over the loss of a dear friend, a colleague, a brother in arms," Dardis said.

West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness along with Fire Chief Dan Fuller and Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner walk out of the West Fargo Police Department on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.  David Samson / The Forum
West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness along with Fire Chief Dan Fuller and Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner walk out of the West Fargo Police Department on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

A city spokeswoman said Police Chaplain Vern Baardson was on hand for healing assistance, and the Fargo Police Department offered their peer guidance group to the West Fargo force as well.

A memorial honoring the lieutenant was created in the lobby of West Fargo City Hall, which is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Plans for Gustafson's memorial service will be announced at a later date.