The Rev. Kyle Hammond looked out at the thousands of faces staring back at him Feb. 16 -- each one inside St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church to seek comfort and answers for a seemingly unexplainable loss.

He told them that Eric Joering had been a dedicated and faithful Westerville police officer.

But they all already knew that.

What they didn't know, perhaps, was how Joering, 39, loved to take his daughters hunting, and how he never missed their softball games, and how much he enjoyed hanging out with them and his wife, Jami, in their family's boat, even when it was just parked in the driveway of their Centerburg-area residence.

And the Rev. James Meacham, a Westerville police chaplain, told the crowd, too, about officer Anthony "Tony" Morelli and of the lifetime of devoted and committed police work that would be his legacy in Westerville.

But Morelli, who had just turned 54, had another side, of course. He loved Linda, his wife of 28 years, and his son, and was looking ever so forward to walking his daughter down the aisle at her upcoming wedding. Vacations were his favorite thing, and he was always the life of the party.

These were the men remembered in stories and anecdotes during a 90-minute joint funeral service. They were not one-dimensional officers, but coaches and volunteers and family men and all-around good guys.

Those in attendance included law enforcement officers and first responders from across Ohio and the nation. Gov. John Kasich and his wife, Karen, also attended, having postponed an overseas trade trip to attend the service in the town where they long lived.

Between them, Joering and Morelli gave more than 45 years of service to the Westerville Division of Police.

"They were givers," police Chief Joseph Morbitzer told the crowd. "But it wasn't this event and it wasn't this day that made them true American heroes. It was their entire lives."

The "event," of course, was Feb. 10 when, police say, Quentin L. Smith fatally shot the two officers after they responded to his Westerville residence to investigate a 911 hang-up call. Smith has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, and prosecutors have said they could seek the death penalty.

But Feb. 16 wasn't about Smith -- it was about honoring those who had given all they could.

If Joering had been there, it was said, he would have sat on the floor at his wife's feet, playing with his K-9 partner, Sam, and snuggling with his daughters.

In eulogizing Joering, Hammond said that though he was born to serve and be a police officer, Joering knew what his priority was in life.

"When he left work, there was no doubt his girls were his world," said Hammond, pastor of the Joering family's home congregation, Adventure Church in Lewis Center. "He let the girls do his hair and paint his toenails, but I hear he drew the line at makeup."

Everyone laughed.

As Hammond spoke of her husband, Jami Joering was the picture of a heartbroken and dutiful mother, trying to check her own grief as she comforted her young daughters and stroked their backs.

In eulogizing Morelli, Meacham said that if the former DARE officer had been there, he would have climbed the stairs to the balcony where the children's choir had just sang so beautifully so he could laugh with them, read to them and entertain the kids with funny stories.

But his stories didn't have to be funny to bring people joy because the smile on his face was usually enough.

Hammond told those assembled to try to not be so sad, to cling to their good memories and not let the darkness win.

"No matter how much evil there is in this world, there still is love," he said. "And no matter how helpless we are, we are not hopeless."

After the service concluded, the crowd made its way to the church parking lot. The darkened skies had lightened and the rain had stopped. But falling temperatures and a rising wind meant people huddled even closer together to both stay warm and share in their grief.

Those final moments of sobering tribute were just as soul-crushing as expected: the mournful bagpipes, the drum cadence so loud it rumbled in one's chest, the helicopter flyover in which one of the aircraft breaks away, the riderless horse.

As Morbitzer personally presented the folded American flags that had covered the caskets to the families, even the strong winds and the barking of the many police canines in attendance couldn't completely drown the sobs.

A miles-long procession of police vehicles that took more than an hour to get out of the church lot led the ambulance carrying Joering's casket and Morelli's urn through the crowded, flag-lined streets of Westerville.

hzachariah@dispatch.com

@hollyzachariah