As the tributes and mementos piled up so high around Westerville police officers Anthony Morelli's SUV that the stacked bouquets of flowers kept sliding off the hood, the Rev. James Meacham sat inside City Hall and cried.
For 46 years, the pastor has served as chaplain of the Westerville Division of Police, and nothing in that time had prepared him for the darkness that descended on the city on Feb. 10, when Morelli and fellow officer Eric Joering were shot to death while responding to a 911 hang-up call in the 300 block of Cross Wind Drive. Quentin Lamar Smith, 30, has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder in their deaths.
But on Feb. 11, Meacham and the hundreds of people who stopped by City Hall and police headquarters to pay respects -- and the hundreds more who gathered at two community vigils -- didn't want to talk about the violence that cut two lives short. Instead, they wanted to talk about the joy brought by two lives well-lived.
Morelli and Joering weren't just police officers. They were husbands -- Joering to Jami, and Morelli to Linda. Both were dads. Joering, 39, was a dog lover, his faithful city K-9 officer, Sam, always by his side. Morelli, 54, loved sports, coached his children when they were young, never missing any games.
Both were beloved in Westerville.
It fell to Meacham to break the news of what had happened to the Joering family on the day of the incident.
With his red-rimmed eyes swollen and glistening with unshed tears, Meacham recounted how he had to tell the Joering girls that their father was gone.
"I told them Daddy went on a call, and there was a bad man," he said. "And Daddy died."
Another of the city's five chaplains had been dispatched to comfort the Morelli family.
Neither duty was easy.
But Feb. 11 was a day to let the good of a community shine through. One only need to look at the online memorial fund to see it: The Fraternal Order of Police has set up a GoFundMe account to help the families of the officers, (GoFundMe.com/FOPLodge9HelpFund). By nightfall Feb. 11, it had raised more than $213,000.
Two gatherings held Feb 11 allowed people from Westerville -- and those who traveled from across Ohio and elsewhere -- to grieve together and share memories.
People packed the Westerville North High School gym in the afternoon and spoke of Morelli being a terrific baseball coach, and shared memories of how much fun he had when he gave his daughter's Brownies troop a tour of the police station.
Morelli, who was with the police department for nearly 30 years, served both on patrol and as a school resource officer. One former student said Morelli changed his perspective on law enforcement when he was a student at Blendon Middle School and the officer would sit at his lunch table, talking about life and building friendships.
"I did bad things and always thought I needed to avoid cops, but he was one of the good ones," he said.
A mother recounted how frantic she was a decade ago when her then-7-year-old daughter wandered away in the Giant Eagle grocery store, but a calm and cool Morelli, who was working special duty as a security guard, found the child right away.
Only a few months ago, the mother ran into Morelli in town. She didn't expect him to remember her, but he did. They laughed about that old story, and Morelli even remembered her daughter's name.
Joering, who was on the force for more than 16 years, was remembered as a hometown boy, a 1997 Westerville South graduate who loved his city.
He was recalled as always friendly, always smiling, always doing whatever anyone asked and more.
He had really bonded with Sam; his whole family had. And after Meacham and Joering's wife told the kids about their father's death, the girls almost immediately asked to see the dog. Someone took Sam to the house.
"Sam did us all so much good," Meacham said. "He helped the girls so much."
Everyone in town, it seems, has a story about one of these two officers.
Wes Elifritz, Westerville North's athletic director, recalled how he recently joined Joering on a routine check of students' cars and lockers.
"You could tell how much he cared about the safety of our students," Elifritz said. "It's more than a job to them, to serve and protect. They lived it every day."
As Westerville police Chief Joe Morbitzer stood inside the auditorium at Heritage Christian Church in front of more than 750 people who had crammed in for a prayer service the night of Feb. 11, the visibly shaken leader apologized for not being in uniform. But no one could blame him. He had spent all his time talking with the fallen officers' families, fellow officers and the dispatchers who had to handle the chaotic 911 calls that followed the shootings.
"People are hurting real bad at our police department," Morbitzer told the crowd.
Sgt. Greg LeValley, who led the honor guard in attendance, echoed that: "We hurt. The brothers and sisters, we hurt."
Morbitzer lauded the bravery of the two fallen officers but said he knows the men would not want the attention to be on them. They probably would just ask that the community stand together. But it already is doing so.
Morbitzer said he hopes the community's support will last beyond the next few weeks, and that people will continue to stand with the Joerings and the Morellis.
"That's what Westerville is about, taking care of its own," Morbitzer said, drawing a standing ovation.
At City Hall and police headquarters on Feb. 11, the all-day fog, cold drizzle and sometimes-pouring rain kept no one away. Even as darkness fell, people still came and went to pay respect.
When Mary and Jeff Calvert arrived, they stood back from the growing pile of mementos for the officers and cried.
Mary Calvert laid a bouquet of white carnations in tribute.
Officer Morelli, she said, was practically family. He coached their son in T-ball close to 20 years ago, and their children played together. She had just run into him Feb. 7 at a local market.
"He was always so kind, so nice," she said through tears. "I just don't remember a time when officer Morelli wasn't part of our lives."
As city employees and volunteers all around them tied blue ribbons to trees, benches and posts, Jeff Calvert said they simply are heartbroken.
"It's such a senseless act," he said of the previous day's violence. "It's going to be a hell of a week around here. It's going to be so rough."
But they agreed with Morbitzer that everyone will get through this together.
"We will wrap the officers' families -- and every officer in town -- in love," Mary Calvert said.
Her husband said it still seems surreal, that "you see this kind of stuff, but it always happens someplace else."
"Today, Westerville is the 'someplace else,' " Mary Calvert said.
Even so, "We're family, all of us," she said. "This community is amazing, and we'll lean on each other."