Eric Joering, 39, and Anthony Morelli, 54, didn't know they were about to fall victims to one of the most unpredictable and dangerous situations police handle — domestic violence.
Shortly after noon Saturday, they knocked on the door at a home in the 300 block of Cross Wind Drive at the southern edge of town, and both were "immediately met by gunfire," said Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer. One of the officers managed to return fire.
But the onslaught proved too much.
Joering was pronounced dead at the scene. Morelli died a short time later at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.
Morelli was the husband of the former Linda Wilch, a 1982 Monroeville High School graduate.
They were the first Westerville officers killed in the line of duty, said Matt Dole, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.
Police later said the 911 hang-up stemmed from a domestic-violence situation.
Morbitzer called both officers "true American heroes."
"These were two of the best we had," he said, wiping tears and pausing to control his emotions. "This was their calling, and they did it right. They knew how to do policing the right way, both of them." Morelli had been an officer for 30 years and Joering for 17 years.
The suspect was shot and taken to Wexner Medical Center in critical condition.
Late Saturday, police identified the man living at the home where the shooting took place as Quentin Lamar Smith, 30, but wouldn't say whether Smith is the suspect.
Smith is a convicted felon with a history of domestic violence and gun possession.
Court documents show that Smith was convicted in Cuyahoga County in May 2009 for using a gun during a 2008 burglary and for domestic violence. He was sentenced to three years in prison in that case.
According to court records, there was a domestic-violence call at the Cross Wind Drive address in Westerville on Nov. 29, 2017. Smith's wife, Candace Smith, told police that he had threatened to kill her, their daughter and himself if she ever left him. She asked police about getting a protection order against him, but there is no evidence that happened.
Also before the Nov. 29 incident, Westerville police reported that Candace Smith had gone to the police department to ask about a protection order.
They also responded to a domestic-violence call at that address Sept. 14, 2017. It's unclear how that was resolved.
The Columbus Division of Police critical-incident response team is leading the investigation into the officers' deaths, spokesman Dean Worthington said.
Columbus officers led a procession of cruisers and other first-responders' vehicles through Westerville and to the Franklin County coroner's office Saturday afternoon.
"We do that informally when the bodies are taken to the morgue or hospital," said Worthington. "It's ceremonial and showing support for the officers."
Separately, dozens of police vehicles from many different area police departments lined up in at least two processions and drove down South State Street to honor the slain officers.
Similar support was seen throughout Westerville on Saturday. Genoa Township and Westerville fire departments raised their ladder trucks and attached a flag in honor of the fallen officers. Residents who drove under the ladders stopped to pay respect.
Outside the apartment complex where the shootings happened, and along the procession route, residents were questioning how something so horrific could happen so close to home.
But Linda Keffer wasn't shocked. She lived next door to the home where the shootings happened.
Police were at that home often, Keffer said. That was a major reason Keffer moved.
"We just moved out," Keffer said Saturday from the shooting scene. "It just didn't feel safe. Because of the fighting."
Lisa Schmidt and dozens of others were at a memorial created with cards and flowers Saturday night on the steps of Westerville City Hall. One sign there read, "Thank you for keeping us safe."
Schmidt first met Morelli in an uncomfortable way.
"I got my first ticket from him" for speeding in a school zone, said Schmidt, who has lived in Westerville for 49 years. "Every time I'd see him after that, he's like, 'Hi, Lisa.'"
"He was a really, really good guy," Schmidt added. "An awesome officer."
Seventeen Ohio officers have lost their lives since 2014, including Girard Police Officer Justin A. Leo, who was shot and killed Oct. 21.
The Fraternal Order of Police has set up a GoFundMe account to help the families of the officers, available here: GoFundMe.com/FOPLodge9HelpFund.
For Morbitzer, his officers and the rest of Westerville and central Ohio, the healing process begins.
"We will miss both of these officers because they were pillars in our department. They were the ones others went to.
"They literally dedicated their lives to the city and this organization."
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Pastor who notified Joering family of shooting tearfully recalls lives of both officers
By Holly Zachariah- The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)
In 46 years as chaplain of the Westerville Police Department, Pastor James Meacham has never had a day like Saturday. Even a man of God, he said, couldn't be totally prepared for when such darkness descends.
With his eyes swollen and glistening with still more unshed tears, he sat inside Westerville City Hall today and recounted how he will never forget telling 39-year-old Eric Joering's four daughters that their father was gone.
"I told them Daddy went on a call and there was a bad man," Meacham said. "And Daddy died."
Meacham has known Joering's wife, Jamie, since she was a baby. So together they huddled on Saturday and tried to understand the loss. Another of the city's five chaplains had been dispatched to the family of 54-year-old Anthony Morelli — his wife, Linda, and their children — to help comfort them and remind them that an entire world is wrapping both families in love, Meacham said.
But nothing about it was easy.
"These are my babies," he said of Morelli and Joering, who were both shot and killed Saturday afternoon while responding to a 911 hangup call from a Cross Wind Drive home where the couple who lived there had a history of violence. The officers were fired on immediately, police said, and one of them managed to return fire. Suspect Quentin Smith was hit, and sources say he remains in critical condition at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
"There really are no words for our loss," Meacham said. "Just lots of hugs and prayers."
He said Morelli, who had been with the police department for 30 years, still patrolled the roads because he wanted to.
"That was his choice. He loved being out among the people he knew so well," Meacham said. "Tony was so funny. He was always joking around."
Morelli had been a DARE officer and a community-resource officer at times, and was beloved by generations of families who have watched their children grow up under his guidance and steady hand, Meacham said. He was the kind of officer, the pastor said, who loved every minute of his job every day.
Joering, who had been with the department for 17 years, was a K-9 officer and always had his faithful dog, Sam, at his side.
On Saturday, Joering's daughters almost immediately asked to see Sam. And someone took the dog to their home.
"Sam did us all so much good," Meacham said. "He helped the girls so much."
He said that Joering was a hard-worker, and always did whatever was asked of him with a smile on his face. He couldn't have loved his family more, Meacham said.
Meacham and his team have spent much of the past 24 hours also counseling and consoling the other officers, the dispatchers who handled the radio traffic, and the firefighters and paramedics who responded. Everyone is hurting in their own way, he said. So is he. But he took time to preach this morning at the country church where his son is pastor, and his sermon focused on love.
"We wonder how this could happen, and we all cry because we are broken," he said. "There's a lot of hate and anger in this world and we saw that yesterday. But we have hope. We'll heal. We'll never be the same, but love will help us heal."
* * *
Details of suspect emerge in Westerville officers' shootings
Westerville and Columbus police held tight Sunday to any information they have about the man they say shot and killed two veteran Westerville police officers in what was little short of an ambush Saturday.
Quentin L. Smith remains in a Columbus hospital, though there have been conflicting reports about where he was taken. Sources said he had been shot, and that he was in critical condition. Authorities, however, wouldn't talk about his condition Sunday.
However, as the investigation into the deaths of officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli continued, a clearer picture began to emerge about Smith and about what happened at the Cross Wind Drive home where the shootings occurred.
Smith has a long history of violence, according to court records. Many of the previous charges against him came in Cuyahoga County, where he used to live. He has assault and domestic violence cases dating back to 2005 there, and in 2007 he was charged with felonious assault, theft and aggravated menacing. The latter case was eventually dismissed.
In 2008, prosecutors charged Smith with aggravated burglary, burglary, and domestic violence. He pleaded to the domestic violence and burglary charges and was sentenced to three years in prison. It wasn't immediately clear if he served the entire sentence.
Westerville police officers already were familiar with the home where Saturday's fatal shootings happened. Records show they had responded there several times since August, including for domestic-violence calls in September and November,
The incident Saturday began with a 911 call about noon. In it, a woman makes an unintelligible sound and the line goes dead.
A dispatcher called the number back, but the call went to a voicemail belonging to Candace Smith. Officers arrived at the home, and radio traffic indicates that no one answered the door at first. Then, at 12:13, officers reported that they were making contact with the residents.
The call of shots fired came less than a minute later.
At 12:14 p.m., Candace Smith made a frantic call to police. She told dispatchers that she was hiding in the bushes and that Smith and her 1-year-old daughter were still inside.
"Please help! Please help!" she begged. "He shot the police officers."
Candace Smith tells the dispatcher that her husband shot one of the officers as he came into the house.
She said she couldn't see the officer, and she was frantic about her child.
"I don't hear my daughter crying anymore," she said. The dispatcher tried to reassure her that they would help her.
Reached by phone Sunday, Candace Smith declined to comment.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Dispatch Reporters Marc Kovac, Kelly Lecker and Catherine Candisky contributed to these stories.
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