RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A K-9 with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office was shot and killed in the line of duty early Friday morning while searching for a suspect, according to the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.

K-9 Santos and his handler were assisting Knightdale police near North Smithfield Road around 12:30 a.m., the sheriff’s office said. Santos was fatally wounded while tracking along with the deputy and a police officer.

He was rushed to the emergency clinic at N.C. State University’s Veterinary Hospital, where he died.

The sheriff’s office said Santos was “skilled in tracking and protecting his handler with a fierce determination.”

Wake County Sheriff’s Office K9 Santos (Wake County Sheriff’s Office)

“He gave his life to ensure the safety of our deputies and the residents of Wake County,” said the sheriff’s office in a news release. “We thank him for his loyalty and service.”

Santos joined the sheriff’s office in 2016, making him the longest serving K9, according to the sheriff’s office.

This loss comes during a month focused on remembering the law enforcement officers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Our K9s are part of our law enforcement family, and we mourn the loss of K9 Santos. The well-being of the residents of Wake County and our deputies is our top priority.

Wake County Sheriff’s Office