Special Agent Samuel Hicks' classmates at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., used to follow his lead when training how to safely enter homes and serve warrants, trusting the Westmoreland County native's discipline, intelligence and experience as a Baltimore police narcotics officer.
"He was our ace in the hole in leading us," said his former roommate, Special Agent Klaus Franze.
On Wednesday, Agent Hicks was leading again, this time as the first officer to enter an Indiana Township home to serve an arrest warrant on a suspected drug dealer. A shot was fired from upstairs. Agent Hicks was killed.
Agent Franze, who works in Riverside, Calif., said he wasn't surprised his friend was in a dangerous role.
"Like at Quantico, if something is going on, you put your best foot forward with your anchor. Sam was the anchor," Agent Franze said.
Agent Franze was among the friends, family and co-workers who yesterday reflected on the life and death of the 33-year-old who joined the FBI in March 2007. They sometimes smiled, sometimes cried in remembering a man who loved family, work and life itself.
"It's a tragedy, it's awful, it's very painful," said his sister, Emily Hicks of Somerset. But she added there was some consolation in the fact that Agent Hicks, who dreamed of becoming an FBI agent, died in the line of duty.
"If this would have happened any other way, I don't know if we could go on," she said. "He had wanted to do this his whole life. Knowing that he went out of the world this way is a more comforting way than if he had been in a car accident.
"He loved, loved, loved his work."
With Agent Hicks' passing, she said, the priority of family, friends and co-workers is to concentrate their support on Mr. Hicks' wife, Brooke, the couple's 2-year-old son, Noah, and Agent Hicks' mother, Charlotte Carrabotta, of Rockwood, Somerset County.
"The hardest part is Noah will never get to know his father," she said, breaking down momentarily. "He will live on through Noah. As you can see, he looks just like him," she said, pointing to a photograph of the smiling family.
Earlier yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller III and his wife met with Brooke Hicks and other family members. The Muellers offered their condolences and told them they were members of the FBI family, Emily Hicks said.
She said the family was more worried about the danger Agent Hicks faced when he worked for five years in Baltimore, most as a narcotics detective.
"This is just devastating and heart-breaking," said Mrs. Hicks' sister, Angela Hohman of Baltimore. "[The danger] is always in back of the mind of any spouse who has a spouse out on the street as a cop or an agent, but you also [think] it's not going to happen to me, it's not going to be us.
"[My sister] knew there were risks, but she also knew this what he wanted to do more than anything. He was not the kind to sit behind a desk.
"He was so good at what he did. He really was a good police officer and a good FBI agent and he did that well and my sister knew that and that's why you take the pros with the cons."
Retired FBI Agent Ed Corrigan, who served as one of two counselors for Agents Hicks and Franze's class at Quantico, said he quickly saw the potential Agent Hicks had.
"There was no doubt in anybody's mind going through training that this guy was going to be an outstanding FBI agent," said Mr. Corrigan, now a civilian instructor at the academy.
"It reminds you they have a difficult job that is dangerous."
Like others who described Agent Hicks as quiet, humble and giving, Agent Franze was struggling yesterday with the loss, choking up at times.
"He was one of those friends you think you'll have the rest of your life but it was not meant to be," he said. "That's life, unfortunately. This is definitely a reality check.
"As tactically sound, intelligent, and superhuman as Sam was, his ticket got punched, it was time for him to go. That is a lesson to all of us. Life is short, take advantage of it, mean what you say, do what you say. All I can do is honor the man and I will."
Co-workers of Agent Hicks on the Pittsburgh Joint Terrorism Task Force marveled at how the agent, until recently the newest member of the team, immediately picked up on the work and excelled at it. And they were struck by how devoted he was to his family.
"I've never met anybody as extraordinary as him," said Allegheny County Detective Terri Lewis. "He joined a new organization and without any guidance began developing cases and shot past all of us."
FBI Agent Dan Yocca agreed: "He was bright, could think on his feet and absorbed everything. He grew much faster than most new agents grow."
FBI Agent Bob Johnson, the task force supervisor, noted that Agent Hicks was one of only 11 agents nationally to be picked for a training session in Amman, Jordan. Normally, an agent would need five years with the bureau to qualify.
But, more importantly, he said, Agent Hicks lived a life in balance.
"Sam was happy to come to work in the morning and was happy to go home at night," he said. "Tell me that's not a perfect life."
Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1968. First Published November 21, 2008 5:00 AM