Buffalo, NY – After five days of heartbreaking searching, the body of Buffalo Police Officer Craig Lehner was recovered on Tuesday afternoon from the Niagara River.
A solemn procession escorted Officer Lehner’s body to Erie County Medical Center, with police officers, firefighters, and citizens lining the streets as it passed.
Officer Lehner, age 34, was found about 2,000 feet north of the International Railroad Bridge, about 160 feet from shore.
Police officers and firefighters also lined the river bank to greet the boat that brought Officer Lehner to shore.
Officer Lehner, who is a member of the agency’s dive team, went missing during a training exercise at about 12:50 PM on Friday, October 13.
It was later discovered that the tender cable that connected him to other team members had broken.
Buffalo Police Lt. Jeff Rinaldo told reporters with The Buffalo News that “the recovery team was conducting routine training when the diver went missing at about 12:50 p.m.” He had jumped in the river with his team, tethered together, at the foot of West Ferry St.
The Buffalo Police Department was assisted in its search by the U.S. Coast Guard, numerous crews from agencies in Erie County and around the state, and “Canadian assets”, according to Lt. Rinaldi.
The Buffalo Police Department had continued the search, even when all hope was gone.
On Monday, Lt. Rinaldi said, “We have a responsibility to bring Craig home for his family…”
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, “I join with all City of Buffalo residents in mourning the loss of this outstanding public servant. My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones, including his mother, as well as the Buffalo Police Underwater Recovery Team and the many dedicated local, state, federal and Canadian first responders, who worked tirelessly in the search and recovery effort.”
Officer Lehner was also a K9 officer, and had brought his K9 Shield, a German Shepherd, with him when he went to training. They were reported to be inseparable.
When officers went to his cruiser on the day he went missing to get K9 Shield, the K9 jumped out immediately, and went straight to the river.
Lt. Salvatore Losi, commanding officer of the agency’s K9 unit, said, “It was kind of spooky. We all got tears in our eyes and choked up a little. When we opened the door, he knocked us out of the way, myself and a couple of other handlers, and he ran down to the river and started running back and forth, searching.”
K9 Shield was purchased by the department, and Officer Lehner was allowed to name him.
He named his K9 ‘Shield’, in honor of Buffalo Police Officer James Shields, who was killed in a 2002 car crash in Buffalo while responding to a robbery call.
He was a nine-year veteran of the force, and an Army National Guard veteran, with deployments to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
His brother had died earlier this year in a construction accident. He is survived by his mother and other relatives.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Buffalo Police Officer Craig Lehner, both blood and blue. Godspeed, sir, we will take the watch from here. Thank you for your service.
Officer Lehner, your life mattered.