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Lehner vigil: 'It's sad it takes a tragic accident'

LaSalle Park on Buffalo's waterfront was lit in blue Thursday night as citizens held a vigil for Police Officer Craig Lehner.

It began as an event sponsored by the Jeep Wrangler Club of Western New York and expanded from there. As the night darkened, the blue lights became more visible. The wind blasted off the Niagara River, as it had for much of the time the search for Lehner continued.

The Underwater Recovery Team officer died after some sort of accident during an underwater training exercise last Friday. Scott Hemperly was a friend of Lehner and a military police officer with him.

"That's the big message here is, our law enforcement and first responders, that's what they do every day, but we don't realize it until a tragedy like this happens," said Hemperly. "He was doing what he loved to do, what he wanted to do and this sends a big message to the community as a whole."

Other people who attended just wanted to honor his service. Jessica Sass said she was there to help tie together the community.

"I like to see the community of Buffalo come together to honor one of its own," said Sass. "It's sad what happened, but it's nice to see that the community's still united. But it's sad that it takes a tragic accident to see that."

A woman named Megan was there to support those who searched for the officer.

"We are here to show our support for everybody that's been involved in this and just keep showing the Jeep Club is here to support in any way we can," Megan said.

The search for the missing officer was concentrated a few hundred yards down-river from LaSalle Park, until he was found in the waters off Black Rock and Riverside.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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