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A Florida K-9 officer died of his injuries after being shot in a confrontation over the weekend while protecting deputies from a violent criminal suspect, authorities said Tuesday.

K-9 Leo suffered critical injuries on Saturday when he “fearlessly charged” a “violent, armed criminal” who was threatening deputies with a gun in the backyard of a residence in Silver Springs, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said.

“During the confrontation, this evil person shot K-9 Leo as Leo was responding to protect his handler and the other deputies,” Sheriff Billy Woods said. “Leo did exactly what he was trained to do … and that is to fearlessly defend and protect those deputies.”

Leo, a Belgian Malinois who served the sheriff’s office for three years, was struck in an area that his bullet-proof vest did not cover, FOX13 Tampa reported. 

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The suspect, identified as 44-year-old Jeremy Bradsher, was killed after deputies returned fire.

Meanwhile, Leo was rushed to University of Florida Veterinary Hospital in Gainesville.

K-9 Leo and K-9 Cpl. Justin Tortora

K-9 Corporal Justin Tortora never left his partner’s side as Leo fought for his life over the next four days, the sheriff’s office told the station.

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While Leo kept his “fighting spirit,” the K-9’s injuries were “too severe to overcome” and he died on Tuesday morning, the sheriff said. 

K-9 Leo

“Most of you do not know the unique bond that develops between the law enforcement K9 and their handler,” Woods said. “That bond is what binds them to some extraordinary levels of loyalty, love, and unwavering determination.”

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The sheriff’s office thanked the community for its support. No details about a service for K-9 Leo were immediately provided.

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