A West Jordan police K-9 that made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting her handler and other officers from a fleeing gunman was remembered Monday as a dog that not only loved her work, but loved the attention she received on a daily basis from the officers who were her "family."
"What we referred to as work, Maya referred to as play time. She loved her play. She had a great nose for finding narcotics and tracking suspects," West Jordan Police Lt. Chad Haun said during a memorial service Monday. "During her four years working with West Jordan, Maya became the best and most reliable narcotics dog that we have. Maya was finding narcotics every single shift that she worked."
On Feb. 17, as officers from several agencies ran after a gunman who had already led police on three separate car chases, police K-9 Maya, a 6 1/2-year-old Belgian Malinois, was released to chase after the suspect. Just as she was closing in, the gunman turned and fired.
"Maya leapt upward and stopped a bullet intended for her handler," West Jordan Police Chief Ken Wallentine said.
Eight officers from three agencies — West Jordan, South Jordan and Unified police departments — returned fire, killing the 25-year-old suspect.
On Monday, a small group of West Jordan officers and invited K-9 handlers from across the state, gathered at the Lifeline Community Church, 4431 Lifeline Lane, to pay their respects and say goodbye.
Maya started her police career with the West Valley Police Department in 2015. In 2018, she started with West Jordan. During her time with both agencies, officers noted that even at a young age, Maya had a “great nose” and quickly became a highly decorated dog at state and national competitions.
But what made Maya so endearing to all officers was how she would go from desk to desk at the office, looking for "loves" from officers or play "tug" with a rope toy. Not only was Maya one of the top police K-9s in the state, but she was also a "sweetheart" around the office, Haun said.
West Jordan Police Sgt. Michael Jones, head of the department's K-9 unit, said the bond created between a police dog and its handler is extraordinary. The K-9s are with their handlers 24/7, even when the handler isn't working. But the handler is always correcting a police K-9's bad habits and reinforcing their good behavior. The result is a bond between the K-9 and the handler unlike any other, and an unwavering loyalty to the point the K-9 will risk its life without question to protect its handler, Jones said.
Such was the case with Maya and her handler, West Jordan police officer Tyler Longmore, whom Jones likened to "two old souls that had been together for a lifetime."
"She only wanted to please him," he said. "Her obedience was second to none. She had a special place in everyone's heart."
Wallentine said he has received thousands of messages of condolence from across the United States and from as far away as Canada and Brazil since Maya's death. The chief, who used to be a K-9 handler, also stressed the faithful nature that police K-9s show every day, even when it means putting themselves in harm's way.
"You sleep safely and quietly in your beds at night because the men and women of our blue family stand ready to put themselves between violence and you. Maya stood there to protect men and women in blue," he said. "We mourn the price that she so willingly paid and we honor the sacrifice she gave."
At the end of the service, an honor guard presented Longmore with the Medal of Valor, the West Jordan Police Department's highest award, along with a folded American flag.
Following the services, West Jordan police along with K-9 officers from agencies across the state, plus some from Idaho and Wyoming, took Maya on her final "patrol," leading her on a short procession around the city.
At West Jordan Veterans Memorial Park, 1985 W. 7800 South, dozens of members of the public — many who brought their own dogs and waved American flags or flags with a thin blue line — lined the sidewalk as the long procession went through the park and under a West Jordan fire truck draping a U.S. flag from its extended ladder.
"They do an amazing job and the dogs are amazing. It's the very least we can do," said Janice McChesney, from West Jordan, who was at the park with her husband, Gordon, to honor Maya.
"(She's) part of the community," said Chris Anderson, of West Jordan, who also was at the park. "Feel it’s best to pay our respects."
Nancy Pinnell, of Sandy, watched the procession with her two dogs. Her family has been active with the Intermountain Kennel Club and donates one bulletproof vest each year to a police agency.
"I'm a dog lover and I like to support the police and just that tradition of my family being a part of helping dogs get vests is important to us. So I wanted to come and honor Maya," she said.
"Dogs are so innocent and so dedicated to us," she continued. "Dogs are amazing creatures and I think that K-9 officers are a really great addition to help our communities to make them as safe as possible. It makes it safer for the human officers. It's always sad to lose an officer at any point. But to me, a K-9 officer is special to my heart because I'm a big dog advocate."
Jones ended his comments by reading A Police Dog’s Prayer, which states, in part, "Watch over my handler as I am away. ... Protect my handler from harm while I'm unable to do so."
Haun ended his comments with the words of Longmore: "Rest easy girl, I've got it from here."