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Gastonia police respond after homeless veteran’s service dog found dead following his arrest

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 6:34 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2021 at 2:12 PM EDT
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GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) - A United States Army veteran’s search for his best friend after being separated from her when he was arrested this week came to a tragic ending.

Joshua Rohrer served in the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2008 and completed one tour overseas.

He now has PTSD and is without a home. Rohrer spends most of his days at the intersection of Cox Road and Gastonia Mall Drive with his best friend and service dog Sunshine, but now they became separated earlier this week.

“She’s definitely not a pet. Sunshine Ray is a highly trained service animal that is task trained to perform duties toward my disabilities, so She is crucial to my ability to be able to function in society,” Rohrer said.

Rohrer’s friend Dave Dowell was keeping Sunshine at his home in Shelby while Rohrer was in jail Oct. 13. Dowell says Sunshine slipped her leash and ran away the next morning.

“If anybody sees her take a photo so we can confirm it’s her. That’s going to be the best thing for Josh,” Dowell said.

“I’m hoping to find Sunshine. That’s all that matters to me right now, “ Rohrer said. “She lives to work for me, we are a team.”

Unfortunately, Sunshine was found dead a few days later, according to the creator of a GoFundMe for Roher.

“Sad and devastating update… Please pray for Joshua… Rest In Peace Sunshine,” the post read. “This morning Sunshine was hit and killed. I am incredibly saddened to share this news. The amount of community support for Josh and Sunshine has been wonderful. I know many plan to come to look for her this morning or are already there. Now that Josh knows I wanted everyone searching to know. Josh is not doing well. Please continue to pray for him. We didn’t want to make a public announcement until he knew and was safe. The Shelby police worked with us to keep Josh safe and we are very thankful for them.”

Rohrer has been living in a camp near the shopping center at the intersection of Cox Road and Gastonia Mall Drive for the last five months.

Gastonia Police arrested Rohrer on Wednesday at the intersection charging him with resisting an officer, soliciting from the highway, and begging for money.

“It was chaos,” Rohrer said.

Rohrer says he wasn’t begging people for food or money. He says he never does, and only walks down the intersection smiling, waving, and talking with people as they pass by.

“I fought for my country, I fought for everybody’s freedom, and I feel like a freedom we should have is being able to walk where we please as long as it’s not private property, no trespassing, and if we want to stand on a public sidewalk or shoulder then we should be able to. If we want to smile and wave at people we have the freedom to do that,” Rohrer said.

Gastonia Police tased Sunshine during the arrest.

“The dog was tased and the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident are under review to determine if officers followed established policies and procedures,” a spokesperson from the department said.

“[I was] slammed around and treated like less than trash,” Rohrer says he was slammed on a police car while being arrested as officers asked for his ID card.

Two weeks later, the Gastonia Police Department issued a formal statement regarding Rohrer’s arrest and the death of Sunshine:

The Gastonia Police Department understands the community’s concerns surrounding the circumstances of the October 13 call for service that led to the arrest of Joshua Rohrer for charges related to panhandling, resisting arrest, and failure to provide identification.

The criminal charges for Mr. Rohrer continue to move through the court process. To protect the integrity of the pending criminal case, the Gastonia Police Department is limited on what information it can release as it relates to specific facts in this case.

After Mr. Rohrer’s arrest, his dog Sunshine was turned over to the custody of Gaston County Animal Care and Enforcement (GCACE). GCACE later released Sunshine to a friend of Mr. Rohrer’s choosing. That friend took Sunshine to a home in Cleveland County, North Carolina. According to posts made on social media by friends of Mr. Rohrer, Sunshine left the premises where she was being temporarily housed, entered a roadway, and was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.

The Department fully understands the emotional impact that this entire incident, which includes the reported death of Sunshine, has had on all parties who are directly involved in this case. The Department also fully understands the emotional impact that this case has had on the local community and on the United States military community.

The Department continues to review all the facts surrounding this incident and continues to review the actions of all officers involved in Mr. Rohrer’s arrest.

Gaston County Police Department

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