An absolute warrior: Duluth police K-9 Haas honored for ‘ultimate sacrifice’
Duluth police K-9 Haas was described by more than one trainer as a "one-in-a-million" police dog.
The 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, who joined officer Aaron Haller's family two years ago, had a seemingly unlimited level of drive and enthusiasm for the job, his handler recalled.
"He was an absolute warrior of a dog who died a hero's death, giving his life so that his partners had a significantly better chance of making it out of there alive," Haller said Friday. "I'll forever be grateful to him for that and never forget the second chance he gave my partners and me."
Haas was shot by a suspect in a felony domestic assault incident as officers attempted to make an arrest following an hour-plus standoff at a Skyline Parkway residence on Jan. 13. Haller also was struck by gunfire, though his injuries were minor thanks to a protective vest.
"When the investigation closes and more details are released, I think it'll be pretty obvious to everyone that had Haas not done what he did that night, we'd likely be at a human police officer's funeral, or multiple human police officers' funerals," Haller said. "I sent my partner into what ended up being his death. And he did it enthusiastically and without hesitation."
Hundreds of people filled the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Harborside Ballroom to honor Haas, the first K-9 killed in the line of duty in the city's history.
Community members, firefighters and ambulance personnel gathered to pay their respects, as did uniformed officers from across the state. Backing the Blue Line, a Minnesota-based nonprofit supporting police families, prepared and distributed blue roses to every attendee.
Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken called Haas' death a "tremendous loss for our community." He said he has been overwhelmed with the outpouring of letters, social media posts and gifts being sent to the department from around the world.
"Our community members have wrapped their arms around us and propped us up during this difficult time," he said. "I am very humbled by the sight of so many friendly faces and faces I have yet to meet."
Haas, born in the Netherlands, joined the Haller family on Jan. 6, 2017, a day after his first birthday. His partner said the pup was "untrained and full of energy," likening the practice of putting on a leash to riding a bull. But for Haller, a Duluth police officer since 2014, joining the K-9 unit was a dream job in his hometown department.
Trained in detecting drugs and evidence, as well as tracking suspects, Haas routinely excelled in training sessions. A police dog's top priority, however, is always to keep his human partners safe, Haller said.
"You can see in the way Haas looked at Aaron that he worshipped the ground Aaron walked on," wife Holly LaBoone-Haller said.
Holly recalled the routine of her husband and Haas getting ready to go to work - the dog bouncing with excitement and playing with their young daughters before receiving parting hugs and kisses.
"I would give so much to be able to live through that routine just one more time," she said. "In the grand scheme of things we did not get to have Haas in our lives for much time at all, but he has touched our lives in such profound ways that it is hard to remember what our life was like without him."
Holly said she received a call from Aaron at 7:48 p.m., about an hour after he and Haas had walked out the door on that fateful night. Aaron had heard scanner traffic and went straight to the Skyline scene as he began his shift.
"Before he spoke, I could tell that something was wrong," she recalled. "He told me that he was in the hospital and that he had been shot but that he was OK. And then he lost it as he told me that Haas was shot, too. I know if Aaron had his way he wouldn't have been brought to the hospital that night. He would've been by Haas' side every second possible, and I know that I desperately wanted to be in two spots at once."
Haas was pronounced dead at an emergency veterinary hospital. The suspect, 27-year-old Taylor Joseph Turek, also died of a gunshot wound that a medical examiner later determined to be self-inflicted.
Tusken said he had just finished dinner and was sitting down for a movie with his wife when he received notice of the shooting from frantic-sounding Deputy Chief Nick Lukovsky. As he prepared to go see Haller in the hospital, the chief said he was suddenly overcome with emotion. He had to tell himself to put the emotion aside and project strength to his department.
"When this happens to one of our cops, whether it's here, somewhere down in the Cities or across the country, we all have a visceral response and we question our own mortality," Tusken said. "We are all a family. We all understand each other. We all hurt for each other. And I had the same response, I imagine, if it were one of my children or family members."
Chaplain Jon Haataja, a retired Duluth police sergeant, quoted John 15:13 from the Bible - "No one has greater love than to lay down his own life for his friends."
"Haas' actions will always be remembered by the officers, his friends, who were with him the night of his ultimate sacrifice," Haataja said.