K-9 Who Responded to San Bernardino Attack Dies on Duty; Handler Loses Finger Trying to Save Him

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A San Bernardino County sheriff's detective lost his finger during a frantic attempt to save his K-9 partner, who died while searching a warehouse for explosives last week, authorities said Friday.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department posted this tribute to K-9 Jojo on Jan. 15, 2016.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department posted this tribute to K-9 Jojo on Jan. 15, 2016.

Jojo, a 4-year-old German shepherd, got an object lodged in his throat during the Jan. 6 search and choked to death, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

He was participating in a training exercise at the time, the San Bernardino Sun reported.

Jojo's heartbroken handler, Detective Brad Phillips, wrote about his efforts to save his partner's life in an emotional post on the department's Facebook page.

"I did everything in my power to save him and in the process had my right pinky finger amputated," Phillips wrote in the Friday post. "I am devastated that I failed."

He said he was unsure if doctors would be able to reattach the finger, but called it "a small price to pay" in the attempt to save his "best friend's life."

Jojo is seen in a photo posted by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in Oct. 2014.

Jojo is seen in a photo posted by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in Oct. 2014.

Jojo was the only dog trained to detect explosives in San Bernardino County, according to the post. His duties included finding buried and hidden firearms, identifying explosive devices and tracking wanted felons.

The dog's impressive skills were utilized by other agencies, including the FBI, Amtrak and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

But the K-9's "greatest day of valor" came on Dec. 2, 2015, when he was called into action after a mass shooting at the county's Inland Regional Center, Phillips said.

After the terror attack, which left 14 people dead, Jojo searched for 10 consecutive hours in sites on and around the center, including parking lots and neighboring buildings.

The K-9 also searched the room where the attack took place.

Jojo courageously served the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department for 3 years. He is seen in a photo from the department.

Jojo courageously served the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department for 3 years. He is seen in a photo from the department.

"The conditions in that room were such that no man or dog should ever have to witness, but we did our job and ensured that the room was secured," Phillips wrote.

In the wake of the attack, Phillips stated that he and Jojo were deployed up to 5 times a day.

The dog's assignments included "clearing" the venues where President Barack Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown spoke with the families of the victims following the deadly shootings.

Jojo's searches "gave great comfort to the people of this county and helped them to begin to rebuild their confidence that they were safe," he said.

Phillips, who has served a deputy sheriff for 26 years, called it a dream come true when he was appointed as a K-9 handler three years ago. He formed "an unbreakable bond" with Jojo in the course of their partnership, during which time he said the pair spent "24 hours a day, 7 days a week" together.

"After a successful detection comes the reward," the Sheriff's Department wrote in a photo it posted of Jojo back in 2014.

"After a successful detection comes the reward," the Sheriff's Department wrote in a photo it posted of Jojo back in 2014.

"At times we traveled 500 miles to conduct searches but neither Jojo nor I minded because we had each other. We depended on each other for safety, comfort, and companionship," he stated in the post.

His partner also developed a special rapport with his family, particularly the detective's 11-year-old daughter.

"We would often go running as a family and when Jojo would see my daughter fall behind, he would run behind her and nudge her to keep up. He instinctively knew to 'never leave a man behind,'" Phillips said.

The grief-stricken detective concluded the tribute to his falling partner by stating that Jojo "will be greatly missed."

The department prefaced the post by saying they wanted to give Phillips "time to grieve" and share his personal thoughts when they announced the K-9 officer's death.

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