CRIME

Windermere mourns slain police Officer Robert German

 

Orlando Sentinel

Smart, dedicated and eager, Officer Robert German could have opted to join a large Central Florida police department and climb the ranks.

But German, 31, loved the little southwest Orange County town of Windermere. He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.

“It wasn’t just a job to him,” said Richart Weinblatt, a former professor and program manager with the police academy at Seminole State College of Florida. “He was such a young, energetic, happy guy who loved what he was doing.”

All that came to an end early Saturday when German was shot to death on Conroy-Windermere Road after calling for help from other officers. Investigators said he encountered a man and a woman walking, but they have not divulged why German asked for backup.

The deputy put German in his squad car and rushed him to the fire department. German was then taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

As officers responded to the scene, they heard shots fired and found two individuals deceased nearby matching the description of the man and woman German had stopped, Watrel said. They are believed to have committed suicide. Their identities have not been released.

German’s killing came less than six weeks after Orange County Deputy Jonathan Scott Pine, 34, was shot to death as he investigated car burglaries in a residential neighborhood about a mile north of where German was gunned down.

German’s death was the first in the line of duty for the town, chartered nearly 90 years ago.

“Windermere’s heart is broken,” Town Mayor Gary Bruhn said Saturday after meeting with German’s family.

German’s friend Bryan Burke, an Altamonte Springs senior police officer, said he had tried to talk German into joining the Altamonte force, which is larger, pays better and has more opportunities for promotion.

German, known to friends as “Robbie,” preferred to stay with Windermere, which has 12 paid officer positions and two reserves.

“He was dedicated to the people of Windermere,” Burke said.

German returned to the road Monday after four months on desk duty following shoulder surgery, friends said. He worked Monday and Tuesday, was off Wednesday and Thursday and came back for a late shift Friday into early Saturday.

“He said he couldn’t wait to get back on patrol,” Bruhn said. “He was glowing.”

Something went wrong about 4 a.m.

German was lying on the south side of Conroy-Windermere Road about a block west of Apopka-Vineland Road, near a Walgreens, when four Orange County deputies and one police officer each from Orlando and Ocoee rushed to help him.

Before they could assess what had happened, the deputies and officers heard shots nearby, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The deputy who arrived first used a patrol car to shield German, lifted him into the car and then handed him over to Orange County Fire Rescue emergency workers, who tried to resuscitate on him on the way to the hospital.

The five-year veteran was pronounced dead at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

The man and woman who German saw walking on Conroy-Windermere Road ran west past the Windermere post office after the shooting, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jane Watrel said. Their bodies were found in brush near Isleworth Realty, about a block from where German fell.

The Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating, said their deaths were apparent suicides. Their names were not released.

German, like other Windermere officers, was equipped with a body camera. Sheriff’s investigators said they would analyze any images retrieved from the device.

Born in Burlington, Ontario, German moved to Florida with his family when he was 5, according to information released by Windermere police. He played soccer in middle and high school, graduated from Lake Mary High in 2001 and studied business on a scholarship at South Georgia College.

German took a job in airport operations that involved contact with security and police, and he realized that he wanted to become an officer. He thought it would be rewarding to help keep a community safe.

The 2007 police-academy graduate was single with no children.

“I feel fortunate to be working for the Windermere Police Department, which has afforded me the opportunity to have a close camaraderie with fellow officers and also allowed me to get to know many town residents on a more personal level,” German said last fall in a Windermere newsletter.

Windermere police Chief David Ogden called German one of the best officers in the town of about 2,600 people known for its lakefront property, low crime and secluded location.

“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with Officer German’s family during this difficult time,” Ogden said.

Elaine Perechlin, who has lived in Windermere for 44 years, said she was affected by German’s loss even though she didn’t know him.

“It’s just sad, awful,” she said Saturday afternoon while walking her dog. “I just can’t understand the violence. No respect for life or authority.”

The killing prompted condolences from law-enforcement agencies and the public.

“Officer German paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to his community,” Orlando police Chief John Mina said. “We ask that the community please keep Officer German and his family in their prayers, and remember the sacrifices paid by law-enforcement officers to keep them safe.”

In the previous police shooting this year, Benjamin Holtermann, 28, killed Pine, the Orange County deputy, then committed suicide with the gun early Feb. 11, investigators said.

Holtermann was convicted of robbing the same bank twice in Baltimore County, Md., sentenced in 2009 and released from prison in November 2012. At the time of his death, he was wanted in connection with other crimes in Maryland.

Holtermann’s 19-year-old girlfriend, Erica Pugh, has been charged with numerous crimes related to the Pine case, including grand-theft auto, burglary, petty theft, criminal mischief and fraudulent use of personal-identification information. She is in the Orange County Jail awaiting trial.

Staff writers Kevin P. Connolly, Jon Busdeker and Tiffany Walden contributed to this report. sjacobson@tribune.com or 407-540-5981.

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