Friday (Feb. 16) marked the end of watch for two American heroes, Westerville Police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli.
The end of watch call is the last radio call placed to a law enforcement officer who has died in the line of duty. It was that day, with the heaviest of hearts, that the Westerville Police Department placed two end of watch calls for two of its own.
We, and so many, joined them in their grief when they attended the funerals for officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli.
It was just a week before (Feb. 10) when the call came in that would forever change our community and the families of our two fallen officers. They swore an oath to protect the residents of the city of Westerville, and that’s what they were doing when they were fatally shot by a man determined to hurt someone.
Domestic violence calls constitute anywhere from 15-to-50-percent of total calls received by police and are the most common calls (National Institute of Justice). Responding to domestic violence is always risky. More than 20-percent of officers killed in the line of duty are murdered during domestic disputes (National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund).
Domestic violence situations are often chaotic and dangerous. Every call has the potential to be extremely volatile. Many times, responding officers have only limited information. They often walk into the unknown, with many unanswered questions. Who is present? Are there weapons? Who is the aggressor? Who is the victim? Has there been past violence? Is someone hurt? Unfortunately, there is no way to know all the answers as they arrive on scene.
In the “easier calls” the situation may involve nothing more than a verbal argument requiring a brief response to resolve the situation. Other times it is much more, and therefore more dangerous. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 12:10 p.m. – when a dangerous call turned deadly.
Both officers were dispatched on a hang-up 911 call with a “potential domestic violence” situation. The officers did what law enforcement does every day. With very little information, they responded to a call for service with no hesitation.
On scene, officers Joering and Morelli gave their lives to protect others. They were murdered by a man with a history of domestic violence, a man who was threatening to kill his wife, his daughter, and himself if she left him.
The definition of a hero is a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character; a person who has the quality of mind or spirit that allows them to face difficulty or danger without fear.
My staff and I had the privilege and honor of working with Officer Joering and Officer Morelli. I speak on behalf of each of them when I say we agree with the words of Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer: “These were two of the best we have. This was their calling, and they did it right. They knew how to do policing the right way, both of them … both gave their life in protection of others, and that’s what they lived and breathed. Those are true American heroes.”
Rest in peace Officer Joering and Officer Morelli. You will forever be missed.
Carol O’Brien is Delaware County Prosecutor.