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'He was like my Superman': Former Raleigh police officer among NC's COVID-19 casualties

Posted February 9, 2021 7:09 p.m. EST

— Jan Liggins monitors the daily coronavirus statistics in North Carolina, wondering what might have been if the pandemic hadn't been so bad.

"I always look at that number when it comes on the TV, but I'm like, 'It should be one less. It should be 10 less," Liggins said. "This pandemic, it hasn't had to go this far if people would do the right things and continue to be safe."

North Carolina surpassed 10,000 deaths during the pandemic on Tuesday. Liggins' father, 70-year-old Ricky David Liggins, was one of them.

"I never thought it would happen to us," Jan Liggins said. "That's the first thing you think about. You never think it's going to happen to you or your family."

Ricky Liggins joined the Marine Corps Reserves and became a Raleigh police officer, where he eventually rose to master officer and served on the S.W.A.T. team.

"He loved working with people, and he thought it would be a good opportunity to help others," his wife, Deborah Liggins, said of his career in law enforcement. "'He felt like it was a calling. He loved it."

The couple met as teenagers on a blind date for a dance at the National Guard Armory in Zebulon and married in August 1969.

"Growing up, we pretty much did everything together, and it was fun. It was so much fun," Jan Liggins said of the tight-knit family.

Ricky Liggins continued the close family bonds with his only granddaughter, Adriana Liggins.

"He was so close with her. He would take her out shopping and eating and things," Deborah Liggins said.

"I used to call him every night before I went to bed," said Adriana Liggins, now a 21-year-old dance major at Meredith College.

"He never missed any of my dance recitals, even at Meredith," she said. "After [each], he'd be like, 'Oh, you did so great.'"

Ricky Liggins, who retired from the Raleigh Police Department in 2000, thought he had the flu last fall, but then he started coughing up blood. His wife took him to WakeMed.

"Of course, I couldn't go in, and that was the last time I saw him until when he passed," she said. "It was a terrible, terrible experience."

Tests showed he had coronavirus, and his symptoms were so bad that he wound up on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.

"I think that was just such a shock to him because he had always been so healthy," Deborah Liggins said. "He told me, 'I'm not supposed to be here.' He took his vitamins, he worked out, he exercised regularly, he ate good."

When the family was able to talk with him over the phone, the conversations were brief because of his difficulty breathing, she said.

"I never knew anything about his feelings and what was going on with him," his wife said. "I still had hopes [for recovery]. He was the strongest person I ever knew. He was never afraid of anything, and he was like my Superman, my hero."

But then Ricky Liggins suffered a virus-related stroke, and a neurologist told the family to prepare for the worst.

"He said, 'If he makes it – and I really don't think he's going to make it – he'll never know who you are. He'll require 24-hour care,'" Deborah Liggins said.

She knew that he wouldn't want to be on life-support, so she, her daughter and granddaughter then suited up in protective gear to briefly visit him in the ICU and say good-bye.

Ricky Liggins died on Nov. 4.

"He battled. He battled hard," Deborah Liggins said.

Raleigh police officers saluted the flag-draped coffin when he was buried at Gethsemane Memorial Gardens in Zebulon.

"He's buried with his flip phone," Adriana Liggins said of the phone he used to call her all of the time. "It was taped together with duct tape. He loved his flip phone."

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