BUFFALO, N.Y. — When he initially planned his "Tribute in Blue" event to honor Officer Craig Lehner, Scott Hemperly wasn't expecting a large gathering.
This would be a small get-together of friends from the Jeep Wrangler Club of Western New York, he figured. It'd be a nice way to pay tribute to Lehner's life and accomplishments, not only for his service with the Buffalo Police Department, but also with the 105th Military Police Company of the National Guard. Hemperly knew Lehner through the 105th, and he wanted to organize some type of event to remember his friend. But again, he didn't think this would be a huge event.
Hemperly underestimated the power of social media.
"It was just going to be friends getting together," he said, "and now it's an entire community together."
Thanks to a public Facebook event page, word of Thursday's vigil spread instantly. By the time 5:30 p.m. rolled around, hundreds of Western New Yorkers — including many complete strangers who did not know Lehner personally — lined the streets of LaSalle Park, decked out in blue.
There were blue lanterns and blue dog collars. Blue baby strollers. Blue car lights. This was truly a "Tribute in Blue," attended by several uniformed members of the Buffalo Police Department and some of Lehner's colleagues from the 105th.
Bonnie Justinger, a court officer, came to LaSalle Park because she feels a close bond with all law enforcement.
"They're brothers and sisters in blue," Justinger said. "And one of our brothers fell. And we're out here to show how much we appreciate what he did for us."
Jose Lacen did not know Lehner, but he has watched the news closely with his wife for the past week. Officer Lehner's death impacted them both greatly, and they felt they needed to be at the vigil to show their support.
"The Hispanic community is very thankful for the job the Buffalo Police have been doing," Lacen said. "So we have to show our support to the men in blue."
Once the sun set, Hemperly encouraged the crowd to shine their blue lights as bright as they could. He then turned on a microphone and loudspeaker system. Lehner's cousin sang the national anthem, and his 105th colleagues spoke highly of his courage and dedication to the job.
Hemperly described Lehner as a person who "never gave up" and gave all of his energy to every task.
If Officer Lehner were here to see this vigil, Hemperly thought, he would probably deflect the attention.
"He would probably tell us all to leave and go do whatever we were supposed to be doing," Hemperly said, because that's just the kind of person Lehner was.
© 2017 WGRZ-TV