Hilliard Division of Police Chief Bobby Fisher and Westerville Division of Police Chief Joe Morbitzer shared a law-enforcement bond even before Fisher arrived in Hilliard.
They became acquainted in 2006 at a law-enforcement executive program shortly after Morbitzer became Westerville's chief and while Fisher was a lieutenant at the Sharonville Police Department near Cincinnati, and the bond grew stronger as the men continued to meet at other events throughout the state.
Over the past two years, it has grown even deeper as each one has leaned on the other for solace, sympathy and support through the darkest times: the deaths of police officers.
Morbitzer joined Fisher on May 19 at Hilliard's First Responders Park for Hilliard's annual ceremony to honor Ohio police officers who have died in the line of duty in the past year. The ceremony is held in conjunction with the national Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15.
Four Ohio police officers were memorialized: Girard's Justin Leo, Lancaster's Marvin Moyer and Westerville's Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli.
As Morbitzer spoke at the ceremony, which was delayed by a passing shower, he told those gathered, "Storms come and go; it's how we live and what we do after the storm that matters."
Standing next to a permanent memorial to Hilliard officer Sean Johnson, who died May 19, 2016, in an on-duty motorcycle-training accident and is the only known Hilliard officer to ever die in the line of duty, Morbitzer recounted Fisher's immediate and unwavering support Feb. 10, when a man fatally shot Joering and Morelli almost immediately after they had arrived at the scene of a reported domestic disturbance. Quentin Lamar Smith has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder in their deaths.
"The first person that came into my office was your own chief," he said. "Bobby and I have known each other for quite a long time. He was the first one at the door. The next was (Dublin police Chief Heinz von Eckartsberg) – just there to support.
"We can try to prepare (for such a tragedy) but you absolutely cannot. I can't tell you how valuable it is (to have people) like Bobby and Heinz on your shoulders, giving you guidance every step of the way."
The May 19 ceremony was held on the second anniversary of Johnson's death.
Johnson, 46, a 16-year veteran of the division, died from injuries sustained in a crash in northeast Columbus when he and other motorcycle officers were riding on a flyover ramp from Interstate 270 south to eastbound state Route 161.
"We gather tonight to honor our friend and our brother (and) his sacrifice and commitment," Fisher said.
He also alluded to the 129 American police officers who died in the line of duty last year.
The names of the four Ohio officers who died in the past 12 months were read and a bell tolled, after which two Westerville officers laid a wreath in front of the memorial for Hilliard officers that bears only Johnson's name.
"(These) four brave men gave the greatest thing they could give, their lives, to protect the freedoms that make our country great," Fisher said.
Morbitzer recalled Joering and Morelli as "just two really good guys" who were the epitome of what residents desire from law .
"Unfortunately, evil had a plan (that day) and he carried it out," Morbitzer said.
Yet the spirits of the officers of survive, he said.
Morbitzer told of stories recounted to him about both officers, including Morelli handing out stickers to children while working special duty at the Westerville Public Library.
"We didn't know about that," he said. "(Morelli) wanted no notoriety for it. It was just something he knew he should do."