Final Farewell to Officer Craig Lehner

Thousands pack Key Bank Center for fallen officer's funeral

Tom Puckett
October 25, 2017 - 2:44 pm
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Buffalo, NY (WBEN) Thousands of police, law enforcement, military and first responders filled Key Bank Center Wednesday for the funeral of Officer Craig Lehner. 

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda says Wednesday was a day to remember how Lehner lived. "Full of love for his family, friends, fellow officers, and his K9 Shield. He lived each day to the fullest. His dedication to duty unsurpassed," says Derenda. Once Lehner and Shield were paired together, they were inseparable, "a bond like no other." Derenda says K9 Commander Sal Losi brought Shield to visit downtown. "We took him to every office. He brought smiles and tears to the faces of every officer he encountered. When you think about Shield, you can't help but think about Craig," says Derenda.

Lehner's time in the military was recalled by Ret. Sgt. Major Mark Sorrentino, who deployed with Lehner in Guantanamo Bay. "Craig met a lot of great people and stayed in touch with them. Some would go to Sabres games, others would just hang out. Once you had a friend in Craig, you had a friend for life," says Sorrentino. "Craig left Gitmo two months before us with a back injury and had to leave the island for treatment. Before he went on the boat, I told him to get better, get stronger, get K9, get underwater recovery team." Sorrention says Lehner had a magnetic personality, saying there was a drive about him to make you want to do better than you did the day before. Sorrentino became emotional when a former soldier informed him about what happened to Lehner on October 13th. "Everything Craig and I ever talked about came rushing back to me, and then the anger set in, then the why and the how," says Sorrentino. 

Lehner's partner and best friend Tommy Champion remembered seeing Lehner during their time at the law enforcement academy. He recalled a time when Lehner had a hernia injury during training. "I couldn't imagine how painful that was, but whenever he reported for fitness training, consisting of pushups, situps, and defensive tactics training, I'd look at Cadet Lehner and he's doing more reps than anyone else," recalls Champion. Champion relished working with Lehner, and the fun he could bring to the job. "We would be on our way to a call in our patrol car when he would see someone rocking out in their own car, lost in their own world, he'd look at them and rock out to the same song, and I'd do the same. The drivers would almost always cheer him on as we would head to our 911 call," says Champion. "This unflappable demeanor and his ability to be unapologetically be himself at all times no matter what you thought. That seems so simplistic, but in reality takes such courage and audacity to live the life you choose and not compromise for anything else." 

Champion says he's not willing to say goodbye to Lehner. "His vast presence is still with us. The memories are still fresh in our hearts and minds and I know I will see him again one day," says an emotional Champion. "So ever day that passes, I am one step closer to reuniting with my partner, and I do not fear that day."

K9 Commander Salvatore Losi says dog handlers more experienced than him couldn't believe Lehner had trained Shield for just 13 months. "The dog's demeanor and behavior suggested a dog team that had been together for years," says Losi. "Craig and Shield were inseparable, worked days and days off, never missing a day on the K9 training center. Craig became a role model for his fellow officers, a colleague we all sought to imitate." As for Shield, Losi says Shield will continue to work with the Buffalo Police Department. Lehner's K943 call sign will be retired, his locker will be sealed and never reassigned, and there will be memorial plaques in the station houses and window decals on police vehicles.

Lehner was buried with full honors at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

 

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