Updated with local reaction: State’s flags at half-staff after 2 Westerville police officers die in line of duty

By Tom Barr - News Journal - and Associated Press

WESTERVILLE, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s governor on Monday ordered flags flown at half-staff around the state to honor two police officers killed over the weekend in suburban Columbus.

The order from Republican Gov. John Kasich applies to flags at public properties and will be in place until the officers are interred.

The order came hours before police in suburban Westerville were slated to escort the bodies of 39-year-old Eric Joering and 54-year-old Anthony Morelli from a coroner’s office to separate funeral homes. Officials invited the public to line the route.

Local police departments reacted to the shocking news.

“The members of the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office are saddened to hear of the tragic loss of these two heroic officers, Col. Brian Prickett told the News Journal. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the officers, the Westerville Police Department members and their families, as well as the Westerville community.”

He added that Clinton County Sheriff’s Office deputies “are wearing a mourning sash across our badges to recognize and honor Officer Morelli’s and Officer Joering’s sacrifice for their community.”

Prickett said some of their officers will plan to attend services “to represent our office and pay final respects to these two heroic officers.” Westerville police haven’t announced funeral details.

Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand told the News Journal Monday, “The Wilmington Police Department officers will be present at the funeral for both Officer Morelli and Officer Joering to honor their ultimate sacrifice. As a department we are troubled when any officer loses their life in the line of duty. When it happens this close it really hits home.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the fallen officers. Our hearts go out to the members of the Westerville Police Department since work must go on and they are reminded by this senseless tragedy every minute of their shift.

“The Wilmington Police Department is wearing a mourning sash on our badge to honor Westerville Police Department’s Officer Morelli and Joering,” Weyand added.

The Wilmington Police Department posted on its Facebook page, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Westerville Police Department, as well as the families and friends of the fallen officers.”

Started with 911 hangup

The officers were responding to a 911 hang-up call on Saturday after entering a townhome and a suspect who police were once warned “carries a gun all the time” was taken into custody, authorities said.

Morbitzer said the officers were responding to a “potential domestic situation.” A neighbor who heard the gunfire said it happened at a home where the occupants were “always arguing and fighting.”

“The officers gave their lives in defense of others,” Morbitzer said during a news conference, struggling to keep his emotions in check. He called them “true American heroes.”

Police did not identify the suspect at a news conference, but confirmed late Saturday that he was 30-year-old Quentin Lamar Smith. They released incident reports showing police had been to his home or had dealings with him several times since 2017, some for alleged domestic violence involving a woman identified in the reports as his wife, Candace Smith.

Authorities said he was wounded and was treated at a hospital.

In a Nov. 29 incident, Candace Smith, 33, went to a police station and asked about protection orders because she said she and her husband weren’t getting along and she discovered she had a sexually transmitted disease. She also told police that when she “threatens to leave Quentin, he tells her that he would kill her, their daughter, and himself,” the report said.

Candace Smith told police her husband “has a gun that he carries all of the time, and if it isn’t on him, it is close by.” Police were called to the home later that night to investigate a report of domestic violence.

The Columbus Police Department is investigating the shootings.

Republican Gov. John Kasich, who lives with his family in a nearby township, tweeted that he was “very saddened to learn of the deaths of two of my hometown police officers.” He asked Ohio residents to join him in “lifting up these officers’ families in prayer.”

President Donald Trump tweeted: “My thoughts and prayers are with the two police officers, their families, and everybody at the WestervillePD.”

Joering was a 16-year police veteran and Morelli was a 30-year veteran.

“These were two of the best we have,” said Morbitzer. “This was their calling.”

He added, that they “both gave their life for the protection of others and that’s what they lived and breathed.”

Trea Horne, 17, told The Associated Press he was upstairs in the townhome he shares with his mother when he heard five or six gunshots early Saturday afternoon. He said he came downstairs and saw police cars racing to a townhome directly across the street.

A couple had moved into the home about eight months ago, he said. “They’re always arguing and fighting,” said Horne, who graduated from Westerville South High School in December.

Jennifer Ripperger, 46, said her neighborhood of townhomes has a mix of owners and renters. She said heard police pulling up on Saturday and watched as officers nearly dragged firefighters toward the residence where the officers had been shot.

“I’ve never known anything like this to happen,” said Chad Temple, 32, who lives directly behind the townhome where the shooting happened. “It just kind of surprises me (that) in Westerville this happened.”

Westerville, on the northeast side of Columbus, is a suburb of about 39,000 with a per capita income well above the rest of Ohio. It regularly tops lists of the country’s best suburbs.

Kasich plans to give his last State of the State address March 6 at Otterbein University, a liberal arts college in downtown Westerville.


By Tom Barr

News Journal

and Associated Press