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A tribute to Kali

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PERU – An overwhelmingly crowded room at Peru City Hall bowed their heads in a dimly lit room as dispatch called out for K-9 Officer Kali over the police radio. After three calls with no response, it was confirmed the officer was finished with duty forever.

Bagpipes began to play “Amazing Grace” as the room filled with sobs and sniffles.

It was the scene Thursday night at the celebration of service for Peru Police Department’s K-9 officer who died on Saturday from injuries sustained in an accident with her handler, Art Smith.

The partners had been responding to a robbery at the Verizon Wireless store, north of Peru, when their squad was broadsided at the intersection of Route 251 and 36th Street. The squad car spun around, went through a ditch taking out a pole and continued to spin as it entered the southbound lanes of Route 251. The K-9 officer dog, Kali, was ejected from the vehicle and later died.

Peru Police Sgt. Scott DeGroot recounted the incident during the service.

Smith exited his squad, dazed and hurt, realizing his partner had been ejected from the squad car. As he began to look for Kali, he heard her bark and went to her aid. He located her, and they began to cross Route 251 to the grassy median where he realized the severity of her injuries.

“Knowing the situation and condition of his partner, and as the worst day of his career began to unfold in front of him, Officer Smith picked his head up, gave Kali a command to sit and stay. Officer Smith then unselfishly headed for the driver of the other vehicle to see if he was OK,” DeGroot said. “Officer Smith’s courage and unselfish display during this horrible event and ability to still have concern and compassion for others and put them ahead. makes you a hero to me and all your fellow officers,” DeGroot spoke to a somber Smith, who sat surrounded by family members throughout the service.

The celebration drew hundreds of community members of all walks of life and uniformed law enforcement from all areas of northern Illinois; some from as far as Davenport, Iowa, and the Chicago suburbs.

Smith was greeted with handshakes, hugs and words of encouragement. Community members, some sporting black kerchiefs with inscriptions over a dog’s paw, created a line that stretched out the door as they waited to leave messages on poster boards that sat near Kali’s equipment. Many stopped and took a moment near an urn containing the dog’s ashes, which sat decorated with her collar.

Peru Police Chief Doug Bernabei spoke briefly about the overwhelming response to last Saturday’s events.

He spoke about the enormous amount of mail, emails, phone calls and teletypes that have poured in from all areas of the country.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for a long time, and I thought I had seen everything. But I found out last week that I had not seen everything, and this is something I never prepared for or never thought about,” he said. “The law enforcement support has been unbelievable, but I can’t even describe or have a handle on the type of support we have received at the police department locally.”

Bernabei mentioned the “thousands and thousands” of posts, likes, messages, shares and comments on Facebook and the amounts of money that has begun to flood into the police department from community members wishing to share their support.

“We cannot thank people enough,” he said.

LaSalle County K-9 officer Brain Zebron spoke briefly about Kali’s dedicated service, strong work ethic and extremely accurate nose.

“It’s not how Kali died that made her a hero; it’s how she lived,” he said. “Kali stopped many crimes before they even started due to her dedicated service to Art and her community.”

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