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

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.
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.
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Updated: 2/01 3:55 pm
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WPXI) -- 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."
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