It was hard to miss Lorne Ahrens, in uniform or out.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound former semi-pro football player could turn heads just by showing up, according to his father-in-law, Charlie Buckingham.

“He was a big ol’ boy,” Buckingham said Friday, the day after Ahrens was killed in the sniper attack on Dallas police officers. “Big as he is, just walking down the street he cut a real figure. I’m sure it helped him in his work.”

Buckingham had been watching the events in downtown Dallas unfold from his home in Burleson, Tex., a few miles from where Ahrens lived with Buckingham’s daughter Katrina and the couples’ children, a 10-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy.

He knew his son-in-law could be there. He knew his daughter, a Dallas police detective, was still asleep. She had gone to bed early in order to be up by 3 a.m. for an early shift.  Buckingham and his wife decided to drive over.

“We got there just a few minutes after the…police knocked on her door,” Buckingham. “They told her she should come down to the hospital with them.”

Katrina Ahrens dressed quickly and left with the officers, Buckingham said. He and his wife stayed with the children, who were still asleep. According to Buckingham, Ahrens was already out of surgery when Katrina Ahrens got there. But then something went wrong.

“They had to take him back in,” Buckingham said with an exhausted voice. “She said he didn’t make it.”

Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith and Michael Krol of the Dallas Police Department and Brent Thompson of Dallas Area Rapid Transit are the five victims who were killed in Thursday's shooting in Dallas. Seven others were wounded. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

Dallas police said Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens was a 14-year veteran of the department. He worked for a time in a unit serving warrants, Buckingham said, an assignment where danger can come with any door knock. Ahrens may have quelled a lot of potential resistance with his bulk, a shaved head and heavily tattooed arms.

In one 2003 incident, according to court documents, Ahrens, with his lineman’s build, sprinted fast enough to tackle a suspected cocaine dealer running away from a bust. According to testimony, the suspect had dropped a .38 caliber pistol and an SKS assault rifle was found in the house.

The couple had an understanding about their chosen careers.

“She was fine with it,” Buckingham said. “She was a police officer too.”

Earlier, Ahrens had been an officer in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to a state database, policing in one of the country’s biggest metro areas from 1991 to 2002. It was home for him, according to Buckingham. Ahrens had grown up near Los Angeles and still has family in Simi Valley. He played a few years of semi-professional football in the state.

The couple was married at a ceremony in Lake Tahoe shortly before they moved to her home region of Dallas, Buckingham said.

Ahrens may have been big, but he had a soft touch with children, according to his father-in-law. He rolled on the floor with them gleefully and liked to take them fishing and to the movies. More than once, he went in uniform to his daughter’s school to talk about policing and safety.

“He loved it here,” Buckingham said. “He found it just a slower, easier-going part of the world.”

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