A Florida sheriff’s department is mourning the loss of a K-9 officer and crediting the animal with saving officers’ lives in a shootout on Monday.

A police K-9 is dead and a suspect is hospitalized after a shooting near a Florida shopping mall on Christmas Eve, authorities said.

Law enforcement wait outside the veterinary hospital to pay tribute to the fallen K9 Cigo
Law enforcement wait outside the veterinary hospital to pay tribute to the fallen K9 Cigo

In a statement Tuesday, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Therese Barbera said authorities had been searching for two suspects wanted on warrants for attempted first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm. The suspects were located Monday afternoon at the Wellington Green Mall.

Barbera said undercover deputies secured an area of the mall parking lot and confronted the men when they came outside.

One suspect, 19-year-old Justin Vazquez, surrendered immediately. The other, 28-year-old Giovany Ramos Alvarez, took off running, Barbera said.

A 3-year-old canine named Cigo pursued Alvarez. Barbera said Alvarez turned and fired multiple times, striking Cigo before two deputies returned fire, wounding the suspect.

Alvarez was hospitalized Tuesday in serious condition, Barbera said. “He’s pretty well wounded,” Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said at a news conference.

Cigo's deputy handler is embraced by his fellow officers
Cigo’s deputy handler is embraced by his fellow officers

Cigo was pronounced dead at an animal hospital. “He did his job and saved those deputies’ lives,” Bradshaw told reporters.

“He gave his life to save others. He’s a good boy and he will never be forgotten. Rest In Peace #K9Cigo,” one tweet reads.

“The pain felt by #K9Cigo’s handler/partner is strong. Our prayers are with him tonight,” the department tweeted.

No bystanders at the mall were injured in the shooting. Both deputies involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave with pay, according to the sheriff’s office.

Source: AP & USA Today

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