PITTSBURGH - The Ben Roethlisberger Foundation announced that it is getting Rocco’s handler a new dog.
The following was posted on the foundation’s website Monday:
“The Ben Roethlisberger Foundation started when a police K-9 was shot and killed where I grew up, in Findlay, OH. My family and I were moved by what that dog meant to the police force, and learned that similar K-9′s all over the country are helping to keep our communities safe. Then last week, a K-9 officer named Rocco was killed in my current hometown of Pittsburgh. After talking with officer Phil Lerza and getting his blessing, the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation would like to announce that we are going to get officer Lerza a new dog. Rocco can never be replaced, but we only hope to help with the healing process and to provide officer Lerza with another loyal partner.”
Rocco and his handler, Officer Philip Lerza, were among several officers who responded to a report of a suspicious man lurking near a building, only to encounter John Lewis Rush, 21, who, unbeknownst to police, was armed with a 6-inch folding knife when he dashed into the basement of a home.
According to a criminal complaint filed, Lerza warned Rush to shout an answer to police or face the dog. Instead, Rush lunged out from near a pillar and attacked K-9 Rocco, police said.
The dog was stabbed in the back, damaging muscles and a spinal bone and lacerating a kidney.
The dog survived surgery and appeared to be recovering from blood loss and other injuries when he developed pneumonia. As Rocco fought, Lerza stayed by the dog's side.
Rocco later died. The animal succumbed to his wounds and was not euthanized, police said.
Following Rocco's death, an emotional group of K-9 handlers and their K-9 officers, along with other police officers, lined the walkway outside of the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center. Bagpipes played as Rocco's body was carried out of the hospital under an American flag.
Rocco was laid to rest with full honors last week.