Holmes County remembers fallen peace officers from both near and far

Joseph Morbitzer recounts day two officers were killed in line of duty

Kevin Lynch
Wooster Daily Record
  • Retired Westerville chief reminds everyone to remember all who serve.

In the first Law Enforcement Memorial Service held in Holmes County since 2019, the former chief of the Westerville Police Department lauded officers and their families while at the same time stressing the pressure they face.

Joseph Morbitzer was the keynote speaker Friday, and began by thanking officers for the work they do, noting they do not get thanked nearly enough.

"To the spouses, you are the ones who are there when we leave, wondering if we're ever going to come back," Morbitzer said. "That's a tremendous amount of pressure to put on people. As law enforcement officers, we've got to recognize our support systems that are there for us."

"We, unfortunately, have seen and known way too many people who have lost their lives in the line of duty," said Joseph Morbitzer, retired Westerville police chief. "Those people cannot be forgotten." He was the speaker at the Holmes County Law Enforcement Memorial Service.

Morbitzer noted that in the past week the Columbus Police Department had three officer-involved shootings in four days, and an officer qA killed in Euclid.

"Assaults against officers are on the rise," he said. "I encourage officers to please be aware and watch your surroundings."

Retired Millersburg Chief Tom Vaughn said 24,185 peace officers have been killed nationally while on duty since tracking began in 1786.

'A whole world of an entire department changed'

Morbitzer recalled how two of his officers in Westerville had been ambushed and killed responding to a domestic violence situation in 2018.

"A whole world of an entire department changed," Morbitzer said. "I was advised that two of our officers had been ambushed responding to a domestic violence situation. Officer (Eric) Joering was killed immediately. Officer (Anthony) Morelli was life-flighted to a hospital where he died later. It had a huge impact on our department, their families and the people that worked within that city.

"What was stunning to me was, Officer Morelli was still alive and conscious when they put him on the helicopter, but the only thing he was concerned about was Eric Joering," the chief continued. "Unfortunately, neither officer survived. The amount of the outpouring from the citizens was tremendous, and that is what helped us get through that situation."

Larry Purdy plays taps at the Law Enforcement Memorial service Friday in Millersburg,

Law enforcement field faces trauma daily

Morbitzer said the law enforcement field is full of negatives and very traumatic situations, and it is important to pay attention to the health and well-being of the officers.

"Our profession leads the way in three things − divorce, depression and suicide," he said. "That's because of the pressures that we've dealt with over our career. Gladly we are addressing this. It is important to maintain mental health as well as physical health. We have to take care of each other."

He said sometimes one question to a co-worker can be the difference between life and death.

"We, unfortunately, have seen and known way too many people who have lost their lives in the line of duty," Morbitzer said. "Those people cannot be forgotten. They need to be remembered every single day."

He concluded his speech noting the greatest service is service above self to others.

"That is what (police officers) display every single day when they're in uniform," Morbitzer said. "I can't say enough about these folks for what they do. Thank you again for everything you do."

Retired Millersburg Police Chief Tom Vaughn greets the gathering of community members and law enforcement officers on hand for the 2024 Law Enforcement Memorial.

End of watch since 2019

Capt. Brad Conn of the Millersburg Police Auxiliary said peace officer memorials are held to honor the men and women who have fallen in the line of duty.

He shared the list of officers who fell in 2023:

Deputy Sheriff Joshua Hamilton of the Preble County Sheriff's Office (Dec. 18, 2023); Deputy Sheriff Marcus Zeigler of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office (May 26, 2023); and Police Officer Timothy Unwin of Springfield Township PD (March 31, 2023). Two additional officers have been killed in the line of duty to date in 2024.

Local officers who have died while in service since 2019, the last time a memorial service was held, are Al Reed, Maynard Mohr, Susan Holley and Terry Byland. They were presented a rose by Vaughn.