BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Oct. 13, 2017, a day Buffalo won't soon forget.
"Craig represented the future of our unit. And it was upsetting to lose the future," Lt. Salvatore Losi, Head of Buffalo Police’s K-9 Unit said.
On that fateful Friday, Lt. Craig, Lehner went into the fast moving waters of the Niagara River at Broderick Park for a diving exercise with Buffalo Police's Underwater Rescue and Recovery Team. Just three minutes into the dive, his tether went slack--and the massive days-long search to bring Lehner home, began.
After five days, Lehner's body was recovered from the Niagara River. Since then, his brothers and sisters in blue have been working to keep his legacy alive, especially in the K-9 unit. Not only is the training park now named after the late officer, there’s newest K-9 addition is named after him. Since Lehner's death the unit also added three new handlers to the team.
"Coincidentally they all graduated with Craig, there are a lot of similarities between the new handlers and Craig,” Losi said. “So, I think Craig would be happy to see who is carrying on his legacy."
And there's one K-9 handler who understands the shoes they're all tasked to fill.
"I would say when I first got the job, I felt a lot of pressure,” Buffalo Police K-9 Officer Matthew Richards said. “I didn't know what to expect, I didn't know how it was going to go. But with him, it makes it easy."
Richards is now Shields partner. He has served our community with BPD for a little more than a decade. Richards has been in the K-9 unit for just six months and wasn't expecting to add four paws to his, personal, unit right away.
"It just happened and I was the last one to pass and get assigned a dog and he happened to be it," he smiled.
Safe to say the crime fighting pair, who work to keep narcotics off Buffalo's streets, wouldn't have it any other way.
"He doesn't complain, sometimes other partners complain," Richards laughed.
Shield has been an even better addition to Richards' family, bringing in a little laughter and fun.
"He enjoys the kids when they are out, and he enjoys the rest of my family," Richards said. "He's very playful and I know Craig was kind of a playful guy."
It’s keeping Lehner, the officer, army national guard veteran and friend's memory alive, one year after his untimely death.