Remembering K9 Leo

23Dec13

leo5My first and only encounter with the Wakefield Police Department‘s K9 Officer Leo was a memorable one. It was five years ago – almost to the day. On Dec. 18, 2008 I was covering a Board of Selectmen’s meeting at which K9 Leo and his partner, Officer Brett Rossicone, were being recognized for the heroic rescue of an 11 year-old boy in the Town Forest on a frigid December night.

When Leo was brought into Town Hall for his photo that night, the selectmen and the press were cautioned by Officer Rossicone that Leo was a working dog and we should not try to approach him as we would a pet.

Leo was constantly in motion, and I knew that getting him to stay still for a photo might require patience. Fortunately, after taking several photos in rapid succession, I managed to get one where Leo was looking almost directly at the camera.

When the selectmen’s meeting got underway, Police Chief Rick Smith described the heroic rescue.

The situation unfolded on the night of December 5, 2008 when it became apparent that the boy may have gone out into the Town Forest from the back of his home on in the Greenwood area. The boy’s mother had last seen him at approximately 3 p.m. The parents were under the impression that the boy had gone over to a friend’s house, as previously planned.

When they realized that their son had not arrived at the friend’s house, the parents called police and reported him missing. There was reason to believe he may have run off into the Town Forest.

Due to the darkness and frigid temperatures, K9 units as well as a state police helicopter were summoned to assist with the search. When Officer Rossicone and K9 Leo arrived on the scene, the boy had possibly been in the woods for as long as four hours.

The woods behind the missing boy’s home were very rugged with terrain that is difficult to navigate, especially at night. A State Police chopper had been scanning the woods for about 15 minutes with no results when Officer Rossicone and K9 Leo entered the woods to search for the boy.

With K9 Leo tracking, Officer Rossicone and Leo located the boy in the woods approximately an hour later, roughly a quarter mile from the house. The boy was huddled on the ground under some brush and was initially unresponsive. Officer Rossicone had to physically wake the boy, who was still in a confused state and showing signs of exposure and hypothermia.

With the assistance of other officers, Rossicone was able to get the youngster out of the woods to waiting Wakefield EMTs for medical treatment.

Chief Smith told the board that, had it not been for the work of Wakefield’s K9 team of Officer Rossicone and Leo, the boy “had little chance of surviving” that December night in the woods.

“There is no question,” Chief Smith added, “that these actions and the actions of the entire search team saved the life of the victim.”

Smith also praised Officer Rossicone’s overall dedication to working with K9 Leo, devoting extra time to training the dog in tracking exercises.

“They are out there working and training,” Smith said, “and it paid off big time. It paid off in huge dividends on the night of December 5.” Recognizing the “team effort,” Smith pulled several dog treats from his pocket for Rossicone to give to Leo.

Selectman Patrick Glynn said that he knew the family of the missing boy very well. “They said, ‘If it weren’t for Leo, we wouldn’t have our son,’” Glynn told Rossicone that night. “Everyone who has children in this town is grateful to you.”

Then Selectman Albert Turco congratulated Officer Rossicone. “It’s not everyone who can say honestly that they’ve saved someone’s life. Leo certainly earned his keep,” Turco said. Turco also presented Rossicone with a bag of “healthy treats” for Leo.

Selectman Phyllis Hull told Rossicone that she was “as proud of you as anyone else around this table. I congratulate you on what you’ve done.”

Selectman Betsy Sheeran also recognized Rossicone’s work with K9 Leo and presented him with some dog biscuits for his partner.

After seven years on the Wakefield Police Department, K9 Leo was recently discovered to have an inoperable tumor and had to be put to sleep last week.

RIP K9 Leo, a good dog and a good cop.

[This column originally appeared in the December 19, 2013 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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