The death of Buffalo police Officer Craig Lehner stunned the city and resonated well beyond.
The K-9 officer and member of the department's Underwater Recovery Unit disappeared during a training exercise in the Niagara River on Oct. 13, touching off a frantic five-day search. More than 50 agencies from across the state and Canada sent first responders to help in the search and recovery effort. Thirty businesses, from pizzerias to dive shops, donated food, drinks and other kinds of support. Another dozen individuals provided coffee, Gatorade, energy bars and meals.
And after Oct. 17, the day Lehner's body was finally recovered, a new outpouring from the community began.
Throughout this year, when tragedy struck and lives were turned upside down, Western New Yorkers rallied to do whatever they could to help. They delivered dinners every night to the family of a Grand Island woman seriously injured by a hit-and-run motorist. They welcomed dozens of families driven to Buffalo from their homes in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. They set up a gofundme.com account for 90 people left homeless by a West Side arson.
For Lehner, the Peace Bridge, City Hall and the Electric Tower shone blue, as did porch lights in and around the city. More than 6,000 people attended Lehner's funeral at KeyBank Center.
The Buffalo PBA collected nearly $90,000 from law enforcement officers and the public for Lehner's family. Sympathy cards, offers for free meals and dog toys and biscuits poured into the Buffalo Police Department. A fundraiser last week at Club Marcella on Pearl Street raised more than $12,000 for the K-9 unit – enough to buy a new police dog that will be named after Lehner.
The support for the police department has meant a lot to Buffalo police officers, said Lt. Jeff Rinaldo, who gave briefings on the search for Lehner.
"A heartfelt thank you to this community," Rinaldo offered. "The outpouring has been so overwhelming. It's just giving me, as well as every single member, great pride in being a Buffalo Police Officer."