Shared from the 2/14/2018 The Columbus Dispatch eEdition


Centerburg residents rally for slain hero


A prayer vigil for fallen Westerville Police Officer Eric Joering, 39, was held Monday night at the Central Ohio Joint Fire District station in Centerburg. The Joering family lives just outside Centerburg. [BARBARA J. PERENIC/DISPATCH PHOTOS]


Blue ribbons decorated a sign at the edge of Centerburg, where a prayer vigil was held for fallen Westerville Police Officer Eric Joering, 39, at the Central Ohio Joint Fire District station in Centerburg on Monday, February 12, 2018.

CENTERBURG — As the geographical center of the state, this Knox County village bills itself as “The Heart of Ohio.”

Its heart is indeed big, if broken, and its wounds bound together with blue ribbons.

One of its own, Westerville Police Officer Eric Joering, has fallen.

This rural town of 2,113 residents is resolved to not allow his sacrifice to pass without a fitting tribute and display of heartfelt support for a fellow family.

The 39-year-old officer lived with his wife, Jami, and their three daughters for nine years on a small farm a few miles outside of town. The girls attend Centerburg schools.

The violence of Saturday, about 17 miles to the southwest, in which a gunman killed Joering and fellow Westerville Officer Anthony Morelli, has both shocked and unified Centerburg.

A call for volunteers to decorate street lights, utility poles and trees with blue ribbons in honor of Joering and Morelli attracted so many to the tiny downtown that parking was at a premium. Some lamp posts also now burn blue with newly installed bulbs ahead of the officers’ funerals Friday.

The student council at Centerburg Middle/High School is selling “Forever Family” T-shirts to benefit the officers’ families. Admission to Friday’s junior varsity and varsity home boys basketball games will be free, with donations instead requested to help the families. All fans are asked to wear blue in a show of solidarity with police.

“This has definitely been a very emotional, trying experience for a lot of community residents,” Principal Ryan Gallwitz said. “The kids are doing OK, they are very supportive. A lot are wearing blue every day.”

A GoFundMe fundraising effort by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9 had raised more than $379,000 for the officers’ families by Tuesday evening, but the town’s small business owners are doing their part in their small-town way.

Erica Taylor and her husband, Tad, own the Subway sandwich shop. Twenty percent of its sales on Thursday will go to the Joering family, with the Re/Max Peak realty firm matching the total raised.

“When you see these people had lives and had children and all they did was go to work for the day and never come home ... that’s just awful,” said Erica Taylor. “It’s heartbreaking. It brings tears to your eyes.”

At the Hometown Market, 10 cents from every gallon of gasoline and 10 percent of other sales on Saturday will be routed to Joering’s family. Utica-based Velvet Ice Cream will be there to scoop up root-beer floats for donations and Schmidt’s will dispatch its sausage truck from Columbus and donate 10 percent of sales. Twelve-year-old Eva Joering’s fellow cheerleaders will be among the “celebrity” grocery baggers.

“Centerburg is definitely a very giving community. It seems the whole town is pulling together for the family,” said market manager Jan Hendrickson.

More than 200 people gathered Monday evening for a prayer vigil in Joering’s memory at the Central Ohio Joint Fire District station outside of town. Jami Joering and her daughters were greeted with condolences and hugs as the community mourned with the widow.

“Fire, EMS, law enforcement, we all are a big family. They’re part of our community. This crowd tonight shows what a small community can do — and how much it cares,” said District Fire Chief Joe Porter.

“Eric’s one of us. We had to do something,” said fire department chaplain Phil Lohmeyer, who recalled an off-duty Joering stopping more than once to assist at crash scenes by directing traffic. “He didn’t take off his uniform and stop caring for people,” Lohmeyer said.

He offered a few prayers and twice called for a moment of silence only broken by the muffled crackle of a police radio in the back of the fire station. He largely encouraged people to chat with one another, to talk about Joering and what he meant — and gave.

The officer’s K-9 partner, Sam, was in attendance, his embroidered “badge” crossed with a swath of black. Strokes of his back and muzzle seemed to comfort adults and children alike. His handler gone, he will be retired to continue life with the Joering family. The Westerville City Council is expected to vote Tuesday to make the transfer official.

The Centerburg area is home to several police officers who were looking for a few acres to call home in the country.

Westerville Police Lt. Tracey Myers and John Scowden, an assistant chief whose retirement took effect Saturday only a few hours before the two officers were killed, are among them.

They value the tight-knit community where people care for others, a small, quality school system for their children and the small-town feel of an area surrounded by farm fields.

The support in Center-burg, and along the streets of Westerville, “helps the healing process,” Myers said. “Just the people showing up gives us great perspective on how many people really love law-enforcement officers.”

Chaplain Lohmeyer took stock of the ribbons, the mourners and the fundraising efforts, calling them a “show of love.”

“Centerburg,” he said, “you have done us proud.” @RandyLudlow

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