More Than 1,000 Attend K-9 Memorial Service
Despite frigid weather conditions, mourners turn out in droves for a Thursday service to honor K-9 'Schultz,' killed in the line of duty Nov. 30.
The township pulled out all the stops to honor the memory of police K-9 "Schultz."
The South Jersey community made sure those efforts were not wasted.
More than 1,000 people attended a "full police honors" memorial service Thursday afternoon at Gloucester Township Community Park to honor "Schultz," a 3-year-old German shepherd that died Nov. 30 after a robbery suspect allegedly tossed him into oncoming Route 42 traffic.
The staggeringly large crowd came out despite blustery winds and temperatures barely in the mid-30s.
"To show respect for what these guys do and the dogs, the animals do," Joe Valentino, a 20-year Blackwood resident with no connection to law enforcement, responded when asked why he came to the service. "It was a real 'grabber,' that story. I mean, take a look around. I'm not alone."
No, he was not.
More than 125 K-9 units from across the region attended the service, joining scores of civilian dog lovers and police supporters.
K-9 Officer Al Rodriguez drove two-and-a-half hours from his post in Wilkes-Barre, PA, for the service. He noted he had crossed paths with the township's K-9 officers at training sessions over the years.
"This is to show support to the department and the K-9 officers," Rodriguez, a Camden native, said. "Still having family down here and being from here, when I first heard (about "Schultz" being killed), I was like, 'Wow, I've got to get down and show my support.'"
Retired Stafford Township police chief Thomas Conroy, an expert K-9 handler, eulogized "Schultz." He has developed a relationship with Cpl. Mark Pickard, who was "Schultz's" handler, over the past 10 years while working with police as a K-9 trainer.
"No bond is stronger than that bond between a K-9 officer and his dog. He spends more time with his dog than he does with his wife or his children," Conroy said. "Police service dogs are living, breathing, searching machines. They find criminals, lost persons, evidence, narcotics, explosives, accelerants, cadavers, cell phones, firearms and illegally obtained wildlife."
Mayor David Mayer and Police Chief W. Harry Earle noted the township's appreciation for the outpouring of support from people throughout the area and around the world.
"I want to thank all of you who have offered words of condolences and encouragement. The overwhelming support (from) individuals from throughout not only our Gloucester Township community," the mayor said, "but nationally and internationally, validates that good will prevail, especially in these uncertain times."
"It's meant a huge amount to the department," Earle said.
"Schultz" obviously meant a great deal to the community. As the final radio call to put the K-9's K-13 badge number out of service pierced the cold, winter air, tears flowed and weeping was audible throughout the crowd.
"Schultz" lived with Pickard and the officer's family since 2008. The Pickards were transported to the park in an Earle Funeral Home limousine.
At the conclusion of the service, Pickard, who did not speak during the service, and fellow police officers unveiled a K-9 memorial sign.
The sign includes the names of several former township police K-9s. It will be erected in the park.
Earle noted roughly $15,000 in donations had been received as of Thursday to cover the costs of the sign, supplied by Glendora's Sign Pros, and a new K-9.
During a press conference held last week to announce two arrests in connection with the robbery of a Church Street Chinese restaurant and the K-9's death, Earle indicated it would cost between $3,000 and $10,000 to purchase and train a K-9 to replace "Schultz."
Skyler J. Robinson, 20, of Pitman Downer Road in the Sewell section of Washington Township, is facing charges for allegedly robbing the Lucky Dragon Chinese restaurant in Blackwood and in the death of "Schultz."
"Schultz" had tracked Robinson and alleged co-conspirator Evan J. Scotese, 19, of Jonathan Drive, Sewell, about a half-mile from the restaurant to a set of bushes located just off Route 42.
While the dog was attempting to apprehend Robinson, the suspect "managed to throw Schultz" into the southbound lanes of Route 42, where a car struck the K-9, police said. "Schultz" died at the scene.
In addition to the robbery-related charges he and Scotese both face, Robinson, a former football star at Washington Township High School, has been charged with inflicting harm on a law-enforcement animal—a third-degree crime punishable by up to five years in prison—and cruelty to animals.
Bills introduced in the state Senate and Assembly by Sen. Fred Madden and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (both D-4) this week would make it mandatory for those found guilty of killing a police animal to serve five years in prison. The bills have been dubbed "'Schultz's' Law."
"Schultz" was named after former Flyers enforcer Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, a member of the two-time Stanley Cup champion "Broad Street Bullies" of the 1970s.