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A photo of Westerville Police Office Eric Joering sat in a place of honor in the Central Ohio Joint Fire District during a prayer vigil. The Centerburg community paid tribute to Joering, who lived in Milford Township, and Officer Anthony Morelli Monday night. 

CENTERBURG -- Twenty miles separate the communities of Centerburg and Westerville, but the memory of one man will forever connect the two.

The Central Ohio Joint Fire District hosted a prayer vigil Monday night in honor of Westerville Police Officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli. Joering, along with his family, was a resident of Milford Township in Knox County.

Joering’s family and his K-9, Sam, sat in a place of honor as COJFD Chaplain Philip Lohmeyer began a night of prayer and remembrance. Members of the Westerville Police Department stood sentinel behind the family while the Centerburg community filled the fire house.

It may seem unusual to hold a prayer vigil for a police officer in the place firefighters call home, but Lohmeyer said it just felt right. “This is our house,” he said. “Several of the churches offered space to do that, but, as a family, we wanted to invite them to our house.”

Though Lohmeyer did not know Joering personally, he said the crew at the COJFD was often on calls alongside their brethren in blue. “We work together closely all the time. We’re just part of a family.”

As each person took turns comforting and giving condolences to the Joering family, the chaplain said it was amazing to see the community supporting one of its own. “The community has just come out in droves to support the family. Of course, the girls are in the school system here, but it’s just amazing to see.”

The community support spread far beyond the walls of the COJFD. Over the weekend, the Centerburg cheerleaders started tying blue ribbons throughout the village. That turned into hundreds of people wrapping the community in blue.

“The outpouring from the community has just been amazing,” Lohmeyer said.

The Centerburg student council is selling T-shirts to honor the fallen officers. All the proceeds from the sales will be donated to the Westerville Police Department.

Other schools are showing their support as well. Danville will donate proceeds from its 50/50 raffle at Tuesday night’s basketball game to a fund for the Joering and Morelli families.

The Danville community is familiar with the grief that comes from losing one of its police officers. Two years ago, Danville police officer Thomas Cottrell was killed in the line of duty. Each year since then the community gathers on the day Cottrell died to remember him.

The Centerburg boys basketball team is travelling to Fredericktown for a game this Friday. The Fredericktown Local School District announced admission to the game will be by donation only with proceeds benefiting the families of Joering and Morelli.

Tressel Scowden, who is a classmate of one of Joering’s daughters, waited in line Monday night to present the family with a poster made by his fifth grade class.

“He made a sign and he took it in and had everyone sign it,” explained Jayne Scowden, Tressel’s mother. “He was very thoughtful. They make cards a lot for things and he was going to make a card.”

Jayne Scowden suggested a poster instead. “What if you made a poster and everyone could sign it?” she told her son.

Tressel said they made it to cheer up his classmate.

“I just have a great respect and admiration for all police officers,” said Centerburg Mayor Dave Beck. “I consider these two officers American heroes who gave their lives protecting the community they serve. It goes above and beyond.”

Joering and Morelli were killed when they responded to a 911 hangup call Saturday afternoon. The officers were ambushed when they arrived at a home in the 300 block of Cross Wind Drive in Westerville, a place the department was familiar with after responding to numerous calls there this year. The officers and the suspect, Quentin Lamar Smith, all fired their guns when the officers entered the home. Joering died at the scene while Morelli died at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Smith was merely wounded.

Two charges of aggravated murder were filed against Smith Sunday.

Joering was a 17-year veteran of the police force. He is survived by a wife, four children, and his K-9 partner, Sam. Morelli was a 29-year veteran. He is survived by a wife and two children.

FOP Lodge #9 has established a GoFundMe account to assist the Joering and Morelli families with expenses and educational resources. Donations can be made here.

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