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Lehner's body found on anniversary of pal's 2003 death in Iraq

For the members of the 105th Military Police Unit, there's a reason Buffalo police Office Craig Lehner's body was found on Oct. 17. It was also the 14th anniversary of the death of Michael L. "Mikey" Willliams, a military police officer killed by a roadside bomb on Oct. 17, 2003, near Baghdad.

They say Mikey brought Lehner home.

Lehner, one of Williams' close friends in the Army National Guard unit, was among those planning to attend a get together that night to honor his friend and mentor.

But he would never make it to that event. On Oct. 13, Lehner disappeared during an underwater police dive team training exercise in the Niagara River.

At Lehner's funeral Wednesday in KeyBank Center, his former commander, retired Army Sgt. Major Mark A. Sorrentino, recounted his heartbreak upon learning about the accident. But he, like many from the 105th, sensed Williams was looking after Lehner.

"Craig made plans for that night to attend a get together to honor his friend and mentor, Mikey, as he did every year he was home," Sorrentino said. "In the hearts of many soldiers of the 105th that I talked to, we all felt that Mikey was going to help bring Craig home to us on the 17th."

Spc. Michael Williams

And it was on Oct. 17, the fifth day of searching, that Lehner's body was spotted floating a few thousand feet north of the International Railroad Bridge.

Lehner had considered the 46-year-old Williams, a Buffalo resident and state prison investigator, his mentor in the military outfit.

"Those two bonded instantly. Mikey took Craig under his arm and helped bring Craig out of his shell," Sorrentino said.

In 2003, Lehner suffered an injury and could not deploy with the unit to Iraq. It was Williams who took his place, Sorrentino said.

"Craig was devastated to hear of the loss. For over 13 years, Craig shouldered the guilt and remorse knowing the man that filled his position, his friend, his mentor, was gone," Sorrentino said.

Lehner was one of the guard members who met Williams' casket when it arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport and he served as one of the pallbearers at Williams' funeral at Antioch Baptist Church.

Williams' passing weighed on Lehner but it also inspired him to live life to the fullest, Sorrentino said.

"He lived his life without fear and was determined to accomplish his goals and dreams," Sorrentino said.

Current and former 105th members agree it goes beyond coincidence that the search for the 34-year-old Lehner ended on the very day they were planning to meet at an area restaurant for their annual reunion to remember Williams.

"Mikey sent him there," said retired 105th Sgt. Jason Hartnett.  "I believe Mikey and Craig are together now."

Lehner had resigned from the unit last year after 16 years of service, Hartnett said, but he was still one of them. "Craig will always be part of the 105th," he said.

Ret. Major Mark A. Sorrentino of the NY Army National Guard speaks at the funeral for Buffalo police Officer Craig E. Lehner at the KeyBank Center on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (Harry Scull Jr./ Buffalo News)

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News Staff Reporter Maki Becker contributed to this story. 

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