'True American Heroes': 2 Ohio officers killed in line of duty

Officer Morelli's car (Photo: Facebook page "Out and About in Westerville with Kathy Cocuzzi"
Officer Morelli's car (Photo: Facebook page "Out and About in Westerville with Kathy Cocuzzi"

Westerville, OH (FOX19) - Two police officers in the Columbus suburb of Westerville described as "true American heroes" were shot and killed in the line of duty Saturday afternoon, Westerville police said.

The suspect also was shot and wounded and taken to a hospital, police tell FOX19 NOW.

Officer Eric Joering and Officer Anthony Morelli were responding to a 911 hang-up call and "potential domestic situation" about noon when they were fired on as they arrived at a townhouse, Police Chief Joe Morbitzer said at a news conference Saturday.

Joering, 39, died at the scene, and Morelli, 54, died at a local hospital, he said.

"Those officers gave their lives in the protection of others, those are true American heroes," the chief said, struggling to control tears.

Joering was a 16-year police veteran and Morelli was a 30-year veteran.

"These were two of the best we had," the police chief said. "This was their calling and they did it right, they knew how to do policing the right way, both of them."

Officer Morelli was recognized at the 2012 as the Westerville Division of Police Officer of the Year.

"Officer Morelli ranks number one on the shift for the following categories: case reports, incident reports, accidents, and OVIs," the department's 2012 annual report states. "He is substantially above the shift average in all other categories of the activity report including citations and arrests. His assigned cases are thorough and completed in a timely manner. Throughout his tenure, he has remained motivated, dedicated, and professional in the performance of his duties."

Officer Joering was a K9 officer and was recognized with the Exceptional Duty Award three times, according to media reports.

The officers became the 4th and 5th nationally to be fatally shot in the line of duty in the last week, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. The other three were killed in Colorado, Georgia and Texas.

So far this year, 15  U.S. law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty. Eleven of them were shot to death, according to the non-profit memorial page dedicated to honoring those killed in the line of duty.

Prayer vigils for the officers are scheduled Sunday and Tuesday in Westerville.

Columbus police, who are investigating the shootings, paused to pay tribute to the fallen officers and mourn with the community.

A neighbor who heard the gunfire Saturday told The Associated Press it happened at a home where the occupants were "always arguing and fighting."

Police did not identify the suspect at a news conference, but confirmed late Saturday that he was 30-year-old Quentin Lamar Smith.

They released incident reports showing police had been to his home or had dealings with him several times since 2017, some for alleged domestic violence involving a woman identified in the reports as his wife, Candace Smith.

In a Nov. 29 incident, Candace Smith, 33, went to a police station and asked about protection orders because she said she and her husband weren't getting along and she discovered she had a sexually transmitted disease, police records show.

She also told police that when she "threatens to leave Quentin, he tells her that he would kill her, their daughter, and himself," the report states.

Candace Smith reported her husband "has a gun that he carries all of the time, and if it isn't on him, it is close by." Police were called to the home later that night to investigate a report of domestic violence.

Gov. John Kasich, who lives with his family in a nearby township, tweeted that he was "very saddened to learn of the deaths of two of my hometown police officers." He asked Ohio residents to join him in "lifting up these officers' families in prayer."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement posted to his Facebook page he and his wife were "heartbroken by this loss."

"We are thinking of the officers' families, their fellow officers and everyone involved, and we are grateful to all law enforcement who put themselves in harm's way to keep us safe."

President Donald Trump tweeted out his condolences Saturday afternoon.

Stay with FOX19 NOW for more on this developing story.

Copyright 2018 WXIX. All rights reserved.