Several hundred Ohioans lined the streets of Westerville to pay tribute as a somber procession of hundreds of police cars escorted two fallen officers from the Franklin County morgue to two Westerville funeral homes.
As the medic transport rolled by, officers and firefighters saluted, the crowd fell silent and people wiped away tears and held their hands over their hearts.
Officers Anthony Morelli, 54, and Eric Joering, 39, were gunned down when they responded to a 911-hang up call around noon on Saturday on Crosswind Drive. Records show police had previously been at the address for domestic violence calls.
Monday night, the families of the officers issued a statement via Twitter:
Westerville resident Ben Nichols stood on East Shrock Road awaiting officers arrival and remembered Morelli as the resource officer in his middle school. “”This hits close to home,” he said. “He was a personable guy. He always had a big smile on his face.”
In respect of the ultimate sacrifice made by Officers Morelli and Joering, I am ordering the lowering of flags until they are laid to rest. pic.twitter.com/BQolooOceJ
“He was the first person to jump in and diffuse a situation. He could talk his way into or out of anything to help somebody out. Always smiling,” said Jack Denzinger, who also remembered Morelli from Blendon Middle School.
Morelli had been on the force 29 years while Joering served Westerville police for 16 years, according to the Westerville Police Department.
The show of support didn’t surprise Westerville native Kim Cleaver. “This community pulls together. Very much,” she said.
Quentin L. Smith, 30, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder. Smith, who was shot five times, is in stable condition at a Columbus area hospital and is expected to survive his wounds, said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien. O’Brien added that Smith is eligible for the death penalty — an option that will be reviewed as the case proceeds.
In 9-1-1 calls to Westerville Police, Candace Smith reported that she was outside hiding in the bushes while her 1-year-old daughter was inside their townhome and that Quentin Smith had shot a police officer. “Please help. Please help. Please help,” she tells dispatchers. “He shot the police officers. Hurry up. My daughter is in there.”
Federal authorities announced that Gerald A. Lawson, III, 30, of Warrensville Heights, is facing criminal charges for allegedly buying the Glock semi-automatic handgun for Smith. He was arrested Monday. Smith is prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm because he has felony convictions for burglary and domestic violence. The two men are long-time friends, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Lawson is charged with aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, a federal crime that carries up to 10 years in prison.
Gov. John Kasich ordered flags flown at half staff until Morelli and Joering are buried. The governor received a condolence call from President Trump on Sunday.
Just spoke to @JohnKasich to express condolences and prayers to all for the horrible shooting of two great police officers from @WestervillePD. This is a true tragedy!
“Just spoke to @JohnKasich to express condolences and prayers to all for the horrible shooting of two great police officers from @WestervillePD. This is a true tragedy!” Trump said in a tweet.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #9 set up a GoFundMe account for the Joering and Morelli families with medical bills, funeral expenses and scholarship funds for their children. By Monday afternoon, it had raised $295,545 from 4,234 donors.
Police are warning to beware of scam accounts attempting to collect money.
Laura Bischoff is our Columbus bureau reporter and covers politics and state government. She keeps a close eye on elected leaders, public employees and taxpayer money. Bischoff tries to write stories that inform voters, hold leaders accountable and strengthen democracy.