Seth McDowell, Hilliard's newest police officer, stopped picturing himself in law enforcement after his father's death in the line of duty.

Seth McDowell, Hilliard's newest police officer, stopped picturing himself in law enforcement after his father's death in the line of duty.

But as a young adult, he discovered that's exactly where his heart was leading him.

"It's everything I've wanted and I'm right where I want to be," McDowell said Dec. 2, his first full day as a Hilliard police officer.

McDowell was 8 years old in 2001 when his father, Whitehall police officer Terry McDowell, was fatally shot while serving a traffic citation to a resident.

"At 8 years old, you're worried who you are playing with, and then you wake up the next day and your dad isn't there," McDowell said.

McDowell, as many children of police officers do, imagined wearing the same badge as his dad someday -- but he reconsidered after that tragic day.

"I told myself then I couldn't (risk) putting myself through the same thing," he said.

But McDowell and his family -- including his mother, Angie, and younger sister, Taylor -- never were without the love and support of the Whitehall Division of Police.

At age 18, through ride-alongs with Whitehall police and other agencies, coupled with the study of criminal justice at Ohio Dominican University, McDowell said he began to realize he had a latent passion for policing.

"You have to be 100 percent in, and after I turned 18, I began giving it 100 percent," he said.

McDowell said his father's life and the love and support his family received from Whitehall police played a role in his journey to becoming a police officer.

"I had a wide range of father figures who kept me on track," McDowell said about the ever-present and continuing support of his father's friends.

Many of those officers were present Dec. 1 when McDowell was sworn in at Hilliard's Joint Safety Services Building, 5181 Northwest Parkway, along with his own family and his girlfriend, Lauren Ziegler.

Also present, McDowell said, was his father's spirit.

"Throughout my life, 32 always comes up at important times," said McDowell, referring to the badge number his father wore as a Whitehall police officer.

McDowell said the swearing-in ceremony ended at precisely 2:32 p.m.

"I noticed it right away and it was motivating. I know he's proud and I have his backing," McDowell said.

Ziegler left no doubt of it when she presented McDowell with a plaque engraved with a message, "I am so proud of you, #32 to #663," noting the badge number McDowell will wear as a Hilliard officer.

McDowell said he applied to multiple central Ohio police departments, including Whitehall, and knew if Whitehall offered him a job, he would face a tough decision.

But McDowell said he resolved he could not work at the Whitehall police department.

"I don't want to be in the shadow of my dad. ... I want to start my own legacy, and that legacy starts here today," McDowell said of his job as a Hilliard police officer.

Hilliard Police Chief Doug Francis did not publicly allude to McDowell's father during the swearing-in ceremony.

On the afternoon of Aug. 24, 2001, Terry McDowell and his partner, officer Eric Brill, went to a Beechbank Road residence to serve a traffic ticket.

From inside the residence, the occupant shot McDowell through the screen door of the house with a .357-caliber Magnum. The man also shot Brill, who lost sight in one eye and no longer could remain an active police officer.

The gunman committed suicide moments later in the backyard of the residence.

Terry McDowell's legacy lives on through Get Behind the Badge, a nonprofit organization Angie McDowell and Brill founded to provide material and financial assistance to the families of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

McDowell is a 2011 graduate of Pickerington Central High School and a current student at Ohio Dominican.

He interned with the U.S. Marshals Service.

Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt administered the oath of office to McDowell and two other officers, Randall Pugh and Kristen Winters.

The officers will report to the Columbus Division of Police academy and are expected to graduate in June, after which they will begin 12 to 14 weeks of field training, said Francis.

It will be about 10 months before the officers will be alone in a cruiser, he said.

"This day is the biggest pleasure I get as a police chief," Francis said of the opportunity to select and hire new police officers. "We take great pride in who we hire and bring into our family.

"Every (officer) we hire becomes part of my legacy and we do our best to hire the absolute best."

Francis said the three officers were selected from about 200 applicants.