By Callie Sharkey
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is not alone in mourning K9 Cigo, the first ever K9 officer killed in the line of duty in Palm Beach County. Inviting the community to help honor the fallen K9, a public memorial service for Cigo will take place on Thursday, Jan. 10 at the Coral Sky Amphitheater at the South Florida Fairgrounds.
The three-year-old dog was fatally shot while in pursuit of a suspect wanted for attempted first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm. The incident happened Christmas Eve in the parking lot of the Mall at Wellington Green.
On Dec. 24, the PBSO’s Tactical Unit received information on the location of two suspects with active warrants related to crimes involving firearms. The team quickly organized a plan to apprehend the subjects in the mall’s parking lot before they could reach their vehicle and flee.
One suspect, Justin Vazquez, 19, complied with the arresting officers, but suspect Giovany Ramos Alvarez, 28, began running. Cigo was deployed and in pursuit when Alvarez began firing.
Cigo was shot, and deputies returned fire, striking the suspect. Alvarez was transported to the hospital in serious condition, while Cigo was rushed to an animal hospital where the dog later died of his injuries. No mall patrons were injured in the incident.
While Cigo was a young dog, he and his handler were not new to the job. “Cigo and his handler were a working team for just one year,” said Teri Barbera, the PBSO’s media relations director. “Prior to working full time on the street, the handler and Cigo went through roughly 800 hours of training.”
News of Cigo’s death led to an outpouring of community support and hundreds of condolences on social media outlets. There is now a temporary memorial in the parking lot of the mall near where the incident took place.
The small memorial area is bracketed by PBSO vehicles and a white picket fence in the parking area near JCPenney and Ashley Furniture, just outside of the food court entrance. The community has already left numerous letters, flowers and dog-related items.
For those who wish to do more, the PBSO asks that in lieu of flowers or gifts, community members make a donation to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Foundation.
“The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Foundation assists the PBSO with purchasing K9s and equipment the PBSO may need that is not in our budget,” Barbera said.
The nonprofit’s mission to help enhance public safety, assist deputies in need and help underprivileged children provides a means for tax-exempt donations to support the PBSO. For more information on the PBCSF, or to sponsor the training of a specific K9, visit www.pbcsf.org.
The work of Cigo and other K9 deputies reaches far beyond chasing down suspects. The dogs are trained in many different tasks and must also have the correct demeanor for intense situations. “K9 Cigo and his handler assisted with protecting our president,” Barbera noted.
The PBSO K9 unit is also available to conduct demonstrations for schools or special events.
“During the demos, our K9 handler explains how the K9 works, whether it be to track a bad person, sniff narcotics or bombs, protect our airport, protect our courthouse, protect our waterways and search for missing persons,” Barbera said.
The official memorial service to honor Cigo is scheduled to take place on Thursday, Jan. 10 at the Coral Sky Amphitheater, located at 601 Sansbury’s Way adjacent to the South Florida Fairgrounds. No pets are allowed at the service, which begins at 10 a.m. and is expected to last about an hour.