Hundreds gathered this week to say goodbye to a beloved San Jacinto Police K-9 shot and killed in the line of duty last month.
Riverside County sheriff's deputies, officers and their K-9’s lined up on Wednesday to pay respects to Sultan, a K-9 who had been with the San Jacinto Police Department since 2013.
Sultan’s handler, Deputy Mark Wallace, addressed mourners as he fought back tears during the service at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside.
"Jan. 21 was one of the worst days of my life," Wallace said.
That day began with a visit to an elementary school for a demonstration with second graders.
"I told the children that police dogs are trained to use their nose to locate people and things," Wallace said. "I told them that dogs save human lives."
The day quickly shifted when Wallace and Sultan later responded to a call involving an armed man barricaded inside of a home.
"(Sultan) went under the house without me telling him to," Wallace said. "He was following his nose and doing what he was trained to do. When Sultan came out from under the house, he was bleeding profusely from his neck."
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By the time Wallace rushed the K-9 to the vet, it was too late.
"I pulled Sultan’s limp body from the back seat of my patrol car," Wallace said, his voice cracking. "He was gone."
The wanted felon who shot Sultan was later shot and killed by deputies, sheriff’s officials said. Sultan is the first K-9 killed in the line of duty in the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
"I know without a doubt that Sultan saved my life and several other officer’s lives that day," Wallace said. "He died a hero."
But believing Sultan died bravely didn’t make his death any less painful for Wallace, who kept replaying the incident in his mind and trying to understand why it happened.
"I thought of all the time and effort I put into getting him and all the effort it required after I got him, just to lose him that quick," he said. "After much thought and much prayer, I have come to realize how selfish I was because I know if it wasn’t for Sultan it would have been another dog on our team ... All of our dogs would have acted and done just as Sultan did that day. And I wouldn’t want any member of our team to go through an experience like this."
Wallace thanked his colleagues and the community for their support, noting the flowers, cards, pictures, and poems he’s received every day since Sultan’s death.
He and Sultan were partnered in September 2013 and started patrolling in November.
"They say dogs are man’s best friend," Wallace said. "Sultan wasn’t man’s best friend. He was my best friend."