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Westerville Mourns Two Officers Killed Over Weekend

By Nick Evans, WOSU

The Columbus suburb of Westerville is reeling after two of its police officers were shot and killed responding to a 911 hang-up emergency call over the weekend. 

Police have charged 30-year-old Quentin Lamar Smith with two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of the two veteran officers.  

Officer Anthony Morelli, 54, a Massilon native, and Eric Joering, 39, died after they were ambushed responding to a call early Saturday afternoon.  

"At 12:10 P.M., the officers arrived on the scene. As they went into the apartment they were immediately met with gun fire and both officers were shot.  Officer Joering passed away on the scene. Officer Morelli was transported to a hospital where he later passed away,” said Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer in a news conference Sunday.  He struggled to hold back tears.

On Sunday afternoon the crime scene on Cross Wind Drive was still cordoned off with police tape.  Neighbors seem stunned to imagine what happened in their backyard.

“We didn’t hear any part of it whenever it actually happened," said Chad Temple, who works for Westerville schools and lives across the street from Smith.  "We were going out to actually go to do our taxes and we opened up our back garage door, and just to see all the police vehicles we were all ummmm… ok?”

Temple said details filtered out in pieces, and when he found out what happened, he was shaken.

“One of the police officers—I believe it was Morelli his name was -- he was, because I’ve worked for schools, he did a lot of interaction with the schools so I got to know him a few times," he said.  "So it kind of does hit a little close to home in that sense.”

Temple’s neighbor Karl Garrabrant  recognized Officer Morelli from his time working as a police chief in Minerva Park.  He said his niece’s husband trained with Officer Joering.

But the connection between Westerville and its police officers isn’t limited to individual relationships.  Near downtown Westerville, Flowerama, a flower shop on State Street, is no longer advertising roses in advance of Wednesday's Valentine's Day holiday.  It's memorializing the fallen officers.  

“Some things are just more important than commercialism and even Valentine's Day," said Flowerama owner Steve Ozment.  "So we—we just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

A squad car in front of the police station is covered with bouquets of flowers, flags and mementos.  A knot of mourners milled around quietly in the drizzling rain, staring in shock at the impromptu memorial.  No one wanted to speak. 

Earlier Sunday, Chief Morbitzer promised his department would take the Morelli and the Joering families under its wing.  And he explained residents would see that same sense of solidarity on their streets in the coming days.

“Over the next 48 hours our citizens are going to see different cruisers in the city of Westerville," said Morbitzer.  "You’re going to see cruisers from Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, Genoa Township, Otterbein, Columbus, Franklin County, Glyndon Township, all patrolling our streets to give our folks a break and time to process.”

The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 9, has established a GoFundMe page to raise money to help the Morelli and Joering families.  Chief Morbitzer warned of false fundraising pages popping up online. He said there was a "special place in hell" for those seeking to profit from the officers' deaths.  The city of Westerville will also host a vigil Tuesday night at First Responders' Park. 

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