murph news

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Glen Crane of the Phoenix Gazette, Southeast Bureau


Officer Carlos Araiza vividly recalls the night when he and his German Shepherd police dog, Murph, were called out from home to a Tempe house where a gunman was holding a 6 year old boy hostage. A half-day of crime and chaos was about to come to a violent conclusion.

Police had surrounded the house early in the afternoon after pursuing Wesley Sellers through two cities as the man authorities described as a career criminal stole and smashed cars, weaved through streets and lawns, and fired weapons wildly before seizing the boy and breaking into the house. Afternoon gave way to night as negotiations wore on, getting nowhere.

Seller, bleeding from injuries, was holed up inside the dark house with the boy. There was an eruption of gunfire as police and Sellers had it out.

Araiza and Murph were ordered to the back door of the house so Murph could clear the entry for officers massed there as other officers took on Sellers from the front.

"The gunfight was going on inside," Araiza said, "It seemed like an eternity, the muzzle flashing and the gun firing. When all of that stopped I saw the little boy who was screaming, come out with Sgt. Tranter behind him. Everything stopped."

"The front team was still trying to make an entry but the guy had barricaded the front door. The rear entry team was supposed to make an entry so they  ordered me to send the dog to clear the doorway. We didn't know if the suspect was wounded or still alive. We thought that maybe he was dead after he exchanged gunfire with the sergeant."

Araiza drew a long breath. What he would say next was painful, even though the incident occurred almost a month ago.

"So we cleared the entryway. I heard the gun go pop and I heard my dog yelp and I recalled him to me and he came back out. When he came out, I saw that he was limping but I couldn't turn on any lights. I didn't know where the suspect was."

Police stormed the house and killed Sellers. The boy was rescued unharmed. Tranter suffered an eye wound. Murph wasn't as fortunate.

"I didn't realize how bad he had been hit," Araiza said, "I thought maybe it had hit him in the leg or something because he was limping. When I got him in the light I could see there was a pretty good sized wound in his side. He started to go into shock. The few steps that he took, I could hear his nails scraping  the asphalt where I had him, so I just picked him up and ran to the patrol car."

Murph was rushed to a veterinarian but couldn't be saved. A 9mm slug had torn up both of the dog's kidneys, damaged his liver and severed a large artery near his stomach.

Araiza has no trouble remembering Murph, his partner and friend for nearly five years. In the days following the shootout, Araiza thought of the dog often and had trouble sleeping at night.

"He used to lay in the hallway. My hallway is kind of dark. I would imagine I'd see him laying there. I guess your mind plays tricks on you. You imagine he's still there. I guess maybe you're hoping he's still there."

Araiza's two and a half year old daughter doesn't understand what happened to the pet that doubled as a canine officer.

"Every so often she'll go out in the back and ask for Murph," Araiza said. "I explained it to her, but she asks for him still."

Police dogs are used to protect and assist officers. They are carefully screened and tested. They must possess the right combination of physical attributes and temperament.

The animals are subjected to the most severe training to duplicate real life situations, but Araiza said nothing can prepare a dog for the intensity of a life  and death confrontation. That's when the important test is taken, the measurement of the dog's heart.

Araiza said Murph didn't hesitate when ordered inside the house, even though the sights and sounds of the scene were overpowering, and the scent of fear was strong.

"The dogs can sense the excitement, the fear from being scared. I'm being scared, the officers around me are being scared and the gunfire, the smell. They smell all that plus you have blood from the injuries he (Sellers) had suffered. There's nothing I can do in training that can bring it out. It's a very  hard thing to ask a dog to do that. You cannot train a dog to do that."

"He just went right in. Just like that. I gave him the command, "Go get him out of there!" and he was gone."

Araiza becomes somber when he talks about how Murph responded on that night. Sometimes his voice cracks a little.

"There's times when you have problems, feeling kind of down for whatever reason," he said. "You can sit down and talk to the dog. Whether you're messed up or having a problem, the dog will always look up at you and he'll still love you."

"That's unconditional love, whether you're dumb or fat or ugly, whatever your problems are, the dog will still love you. Just a good companion. He's a good  listener and he'll never complain at you. I miss that. There were times, late at night, when he'd just come up and bump me with his nose. He wanted me to scratch his ears. I miss that."