Updated: 5:37 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 | Posted: 5:08 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014

Pittsburgh K-9 officer Rocco's funeral will now be open to public

PITTSBURGH —

The K-9 officer stabbed during an arrest in Lawrenceville this week will be laid to rest with full honors next Friday.

Due to the outpouring of support, Pittsburgh police announced Saturday morning that Rocco’s funeral service at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum on Friday at 11 a.m. will be open to the public. Door will open at 10 a.m. However, law enforcement officers and their family will have priority seating. There will be a procession to the hall, officials said Friday.

 


Earlier Friday, the man accused of killing the 8-year-old German shepherd was held on $1 million bail. Investigators said John Lewis Rush, 21, was arraigned on several charges of attacking the dog and several officers.

Police said Rush was homeless at the time of his arrest Tuesday.  He was wanted on warrants for probation violations and for failing to register as a sex offender when he fought off an Allegheny County sheriff's deputy, police said.

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 Rush 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 Friday, 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.

“Whatever the knife was, it had enough force and length to get through all his muscles and take off a section of the spinal column. It shaved off a chunk of bone and went deep into the abdomen and actually went into the kidney,” Dr. Anthony Pardo said.

The dog survived surgery and appeared to be recovering from blood loss and other injuries when it developed pneumonia. As Rocco fought, Lerza stayed by the dog's side. 

Rocco died Thursday evening. The animal succumbed to his wounds and was not euthanized, police said.

“On behalf of the Pittsburgh police, I want to thank the hospital for all their hard work in tending to our partner and friend,” police said.

Following Rocco's death Thursday, 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.  Bag pipes played as Rocco's body was carried out of the hospital under an American flag.

“After a good fight, Pittsburgh police lost one of its own,” said a Pittsburgh police spokesman. 

Channel 11 reporter Courtney Brennan said it was "one of the saddest stories she has ever covered."

 

 

A long procession of police cars lit up Interstate 279, and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto ordered that flags be flown at half-mast on all city buildings.

"I am saddened to learn about the passing of K-9 officer Rocco. He served this city faithfully and paid the ultimate price in the line of duty in service of the residents of our city. His brave actions very possibly spared the lives of two other officers. My thoughts and prayers are with his fellow officers and the entire Pittsburgh Police Bureau," said Peduto.

Officers wore black and blue ribbons over their badges Friday to pay tribute to Rocco.

"Anytime there's a loss of life in law enforcement, one of the ways we pay tribute to our fallen heroes is by wearing mourning ribbons to cover our shields or our badge," said Eric Holmes of Zone 2 police.

Rush faces as many as seven years in prison if convicted of a third-degree felony for attacking the dog and up to 20 years each for attacking four officers, including Lerza, who was stabbed in the back of his shoulder.

Three other officers suffered lesser injuries from being punched or struggling to subdue Rush, police said. 

 

MASSIVE SHOW OF SUPPORT:


Rocco received outpouring support on social media; after seeing posts on WPXI-TV's Facebook page that Rocco needed blood Wednesday, an overwhelming number of people brought their dogs to the PVSEC to help Rocco.  Others had been donating to a fund to help with Rocco's medical bills.

Hundreds of people posted photos of their pets with signs that read, "Get well, Rocco" and "RIP Rocco," and thousands of people have shared and posted about Rocco on Facebook and Twitter.

Three Pittsburgh-based businesses have teamed up to produce Rocco T-shirts.  Proceeds will benefit the K-9 program of Pittsburgh.  The T-shirts can be purchased for $20 here.

 

MORE ON WHAT LED TO ROCCO'S DEATH:

 

 According to officials, an Allegheny County sheriff’s deputy was driving in Lawrenceville when he recognized a man who was wanted on probation and parole violations.

When the deputy approached the man, investigators said Rush lunged at him and grabbed the deputy’s gun. After a brief fight, authorities said the deputy attempted to shock Rush with a stun gun, but he was able to get away.

“When confronting him, a struggle broke out and (Rush) attacked the deputy. He tried to disarm him and tried to take his firearm away from him. The deputy deployed his Taser with negative results,” Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen said.

About an hour later, a resident called 911 to report a suspicious man lurking around a building in the 3700 block of Butler Street.

When authorities arrived, a K-9 officer, Rocco, discovered Rush hiding in the basement. According to the police report, Rush “immediately lunged forward at three Pittsburgh police officers and Rocco, swinging wildly at them with a pocket knife.”

Rush was eventually arrested, but quickly after, police observed that Rocco was stabbed in the back.  Rocco was immediately taken to the PVSEC on Camp Horne Road.

An officer also suffered a minor stab wound to his left shoulder and other officers were hurt in the struggle to arrest Rush.

Mullen said his department had been tracking Rush for the past three months.

“He left Pittsburgh with a 17-year-old, and we were able to track him to Washington D.C., Atlanta and then New Orleans,” Mullen said.

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