WESTERVILLE, OH (AP) – Two veteran officers shot and killed while responding to a 911 hang-up were true heroes because they spent their lives working for others and their community, a police chief told mourners Friday.
Hundreds of officers and deputies in blue and black uniforms from around the country crowded into a church for the officers’ funeral. Many watched the services on television in an overflow gymnasium next door.
Officers Eric Joering, 39, and Anthony Morelli, 54, were fatally shot last Saturday after entering a townhome while responding to a domestic dispute. They returned fire, wounding 30-year-old Quentin Smith.
Smith, who has been charged with aggravated murder, remains hospitalized and is expected to survive. He hasn’t had a hearing yet and it’s unclear if an attorney has been appointed.
A GoFundMe page set up by the local Fraternal Order of Police has raised more than $529,000 for the Joering and Morelli families.
Before the services began Friday, mourners filed past a pair of flag-draped caskets inside St. Paul Catholic Church in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus.
A uniformed officer walked Joering’s police dog Sam in front of his casket. The officer saluted while the dog turned and sat facing the coffin for a moment.
Republican Gov. John Kasich and his wife, Karen, attended the services, sitting near the altar with other state leaders. The Kasichs live in a nearby township.
Westerville police chief Joe Morbitzer said both officers were heroes long before last weekend.
“It wasn’t this event and it wasn’t this day,” the police chief said. “It was their entire lives.”
Both men were married with children. Joering, a 16-year police veteran, had three young daughters.
His pastor, the Rev. Kyle Hammond of Adventure Church in Lewis Center, said Joering would do anything for his family, including allowing his girls to style his hair and paint his nails.
“I heard he drew the line at makeup,” Hammond said.
Morelli was a 30-year veteran with two children, including a daughter who is planning a wedding this summer.
Westerville police chaplain James Meacham said Morelli was always smiling and remembered how much he enjoyed life.
“He went to heaven and partied,” Meacham said.
After the services, a procession of police vehicles stretching for several miles slowly made their way through the city’s streets lined with people waving American flags and wearing blue ribbons in support of the officers.
One of the hundreds who waited in the cold and rain to enter the church for the viewing was Zach Youmans, 24, of Westerville, a friend of Morelli’s son, Chris.
“Whether you knew either of them or not, they still affected your life, whether you passed through Westerville or live here,” Youmans said.
Patrol cars from Louisiana, Illinois, Texas, West Virginia, Michigan and many other states filled the church parking lot.
Matthew Pfau, 27, an honor guard member with the University of Maryland-College Park police department, said the overwhelming show of support for police was the biggest he had seen.
“Law enforcement is just one big family. It’s a brotherhood, a sisterhood. There’s really no other bond like it,” Pfau said. “Situations like this are happening way too much today.”
“To have thousands of people come from all over the country to pay their respects to someone they didn’t even know personally – speaks to that brotherhood. It lets our families know that they’ll never ever be alone if something happens to us,” said Ohio FOP President Jay McDonald.
Sgt Brad Turner came from Nashville Tennessee. He’s a Westerville native and started his career as a reserve officer at the Westerville police department.
“I grew up here and you don’t think about stuff happening like this in a town like Westerville. It does happen all over the country though. It’s just heartbreaking,” said Turner.
Its been a long week for students Westerville. The community came together at Westerville South’s basketball game to pay tribute to those fallen officers. Michelle Bame said she had to come and show her support.
“My heart goes out to those families. It was just very emotional. I just watched the procession go by,” said Bame