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New Scholarship to Honor Slain Ferris Criminal Justice Alumnus

James Ryan McCandlessA new scholarship endowment for students in Ferris State University’s Criminal Justice program will honor 2005 program graduate and South Dakota police officer James Ryan McCandless, 28, of Midland, Mich., who was killed in the line of duty on Aug. 2, 2011.

Ryan’s parents, James and Kathy McCandless, created the Ryan McCandless Memorial Endowed Scholarship with the help of many family members and friends who wanted to celebrate the fallen officer’s life and service, including Ryan’s fiancée, Kristi Johnson of Fremont, Mich. and sister Megan McCandless of St. Charles, IL. They were comforted in their loss by the number of contributions the scholarship fund received.

“We got hundreds of donations from people who just came in to local collection points to drop off what they could afford to give,” said James, a retired Midland, Mich. undersheriff. As a child, Ryan often rode along with his father on duty. Ryan was very proud to enter the law enforcement community in the footsteps of his father and other family members.

A 2001 graduate of H.H. Dow High School in his home town of Midland, McCandless was a high achiever with an early interest in law enforcement. An Eagle Scout and DARE program mentor, he won a Michigan Sheriff’s Association scholarship to attend Ferris State, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.

Ryan would have been very pleased to have a Criminal Justice scholarship named in his honor, James added, noting that similar endowments had been established in programs in the South Dakota community where Ryan served.

After graduation from Ferris, Ryan obtained his master’s degree at University of South Dakota while working for the Rapid City Police Department, where he was awarded “Rookie of the Year” and officially commended for his provision of first aid in the field. A well-liked member of the Rapid City community, he served as a police spokesperson for community outreach efforts. He was also an instructor at National American University.

Ryan was posthumously awarded the police department’s Medal of Honor and Purple Heart for his conduct in the incident in which he lost his life, as well as another medal for saving the life of an infant in a separate incident a few months before his passing.

“On the day of the shooting, Ryan acted with extreme bravery and selflessness. He acted in a way we can all be proud of,” said Rapid City Chief of Police Steve Allender. “Ryan McCandless gave his life for his friends, both his co-workers and citizens he never met.”

Ryan and fellow officer Nick Armstrong were killed and another officer wounded when a suspect produced and fired a concealed handgun after officers stopped him for questioning. Despite his wounds, Ryan returned fire and charged the suspect, protecting a bystander and fellow officers.

“Ryan followed his training,” said James McCandless. “As his chief said, ‘If you have to fight, fight like Ryan did.’”

Ferris State’s Criminal Justice program is provided through its College of Education and Human Services. Upon announcement of the scholarship, COEHS Dean Michelle Johnston expressed admiration for Ryan and appreciation for the scholarship that will honor him.

“On behalf of the School of Criminal Justice, College of Education and Human Services and greater campus community, I would like to express our gratitude to the McCandless family and friends, as well as the community of Midland and law enforcement professionals throughout the state and country for honoring the memory of Ryan McCandless with a scholarship,” said Johnston. “The generosity is tremendous, and for that generosity my colleagues and I are grateful.”

The scholarship will be awarded to one or more full-time sophomore, junior or senior students enrolled in the Criminal Justice program at Ferris State and maintaining a 3.0 GPA. For more information about the scholarship or to make a contribution, contact The Ferris Foundation at (231) 591-2365 or [email protected].