Funeral services have concluded for two Westerville Police officers killed in the line of duty last weekend.
UPDATE 7:50 p.m.
The roads leading up to St. Paul the Apostle were closed Friday morning. But by midday the streets have become a sea of squad cars emblazoned with cities and townships from all over Ohio. They’ve come for the funeral of Westerville policemen Anthony Morrelli and Eric Joering. In little pockets, officers gather next to their cruisers—buttoning up uniforms or straightening a partner’s hat. Hundreds of officers have made the trip, but they aren’t all from Ohio.
Detective Benny Colecchia is part of the emergency service K-9 unit in the New York Police Department. He’s come to Westerville with his partner Timoschenko, and they’re standing at attention next to a squad car in front of the church.
Colecchia says they drove nine hours to get here, but it’s worth it.
“We’re here for a good cause,” he says, “Support.”
There’s a strong K-9 contingent because Officer Joering worked with a dog named Sam. Earlier in the week city leaders decided to let Sam live permanently with Joering’s family.
A gymnasium across the way from the sanctuary is close to bursting with the overflow crowd. Sitting in the front row are Officers Antonio Hardwell and Lawrence Smith—both from the Detroit Police Department. Hardwell says between the two fallen officers in Westerville and the school shooting in Parkland, Florida it’s been a tough week.
“Well it puts us on a heightened state of awareness,” he says, “a little bit more than what we usually are, because when things like that happen it usually kind of puts everybody on edge.”
But to at least some extent, Hardwell is resigned to these outbursts of violence.
“You can’t really prevent it,” Hardwell says. “Unfortunately all you can do right now is react to it. It’s unfortunate that it’s becoming a normal thing and that’s sad. But we deal with it how we got to deal with it.”
In a hallway leading off the gym, Lieutenant Greg Collins from Parkersburg West Virginia is talking with a handful of his officers. He explains they’re not just here for Joering and Morelli.
“It seems like over time—I’ve been going to funerals for twenty years—and over time, watching the families struggle through this is what’s really the hard part about the whole thing,” Collins explains. “And we’re glad to be here for them as well—not just the people that are fallen.”
Officer Eric Joering served for 16 years with the Westerville Police Department, and he leaves behind his wife and four daughters. Officer Anthony Morelli was a 29 year veteran of the department and he’s survived by his wife and their son and daughter.
At St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Westerville, law enforcement officials led a standing-room-only crowd in prayers, as officers guarded the caskets of 39-year-old Eric Joering and 54-year-old Anthony Morelli, draped in American flags.
Several Ohio officials were in attendance, including Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Auditor Dave Yost.
Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer spoke at the funeral, calling the officers "true heroes" not for the sacrifice of their lives but for their lifetime of service.
“Today we throw that term around like it’s candy," Morbitzer said. "We have cartoon figures that are heroes. We have sports figures that are heroes. But that’s not the truth. Today we honor two true American heroes.”
Morelli and Joering were fatally shot while responding to a 9-1-1 call about a domestic violence situation at a Westerville townhome on Saturday afternoon.
“They went to that door knowing, as we all know in law enforcement, knowing that sort of call, a domestic situation, is one of the most dangerous things we could walk into," said Westerville Police chaplain Jim Meacham, who has served as the chaplain for Morelli and Joering since their careers began.
Earlier in the day, an honor guard escorted the bodies of Morelli and Joering through the city's streets to the church.
The 1 p.m. funeral was preceded by a public visitation. WOSU's Nick Evans reports that crowds overflowed from the church and around the corner, with police officers arriving from around the country - including West Virginia, New York City and Detroit - to pay their respects. With more attendees than space, many watched the services from a television in a gymnasium next to the church.
“Our citizens, not just of this community, not just of Ohio, not just of the United States but all over the world, has shown great support for these two families, with telephone calls, with letters, just letting them know that they are in their thoughts and prayers," Morbitzer said.
Following the service, an honor guard will process through the streets of Westerville. The city shut down multiple roads and closed schools for the day ahead of Friday's events.
The suspect, 30-year-old Quentin Smith, was shot during the incident and is recovering in the hospital. He faces two preliminary charges of aggravated murder.
Correction: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of Eric Joering's daughters.