I live and work in a town of nearly 40,000 it’s not super small and not super big. We boarder Columbus Ohio but it feels further away. We have lakes and bike Paths. Schools that rank some the best in the nation. We are Westerville(STRONG) In reality we are a bit spoiled. We are not riddled with crime, our worst problem up until a few weeks ago is around the holidays we had a bunch of car break ins. Many were not even really break ins as we feel safe enough most days not to lock our cars. Our police department put up signs reminding us that we did not live in Maybury and we should always lock our car doors.
We Are Westerville
The dark world visited Westerville 4 weeks ago. We discovered a corporation was opening a third Asian massage parlor in our town. You see we were so naïve that most of us did not realize not all Asian massage establishments were created equal. That some have a really nasty seedy underbelly and when it is exposed and you start to learn about it it can be gut wrenching. The knowledge will scare you, make you shiver and then make you want to act.
Westerville acted. We mobilized ,we educated ourselves quickly on what these places are and how awful they can be. We wanted them out of our neighborhood but many of us also wanted to help the women and children affected by this thing called Human Trafficking. Many Westerville residents spoke at a community forum and then were thrilled to see our police department swoop in along with many other organizations, FBI, DHS to name a few to arrest the “bad Guys” and try and liberate some of those being held against their will.
We went to city council and where for me personally I met an incredible man. His name was Joe Morbitzer he is our Chief of Police. He took the time that night to explain all the ins and outs to the best of his ability without compromising an active investigation. Chief Morbitzer filled us in on what Westerville was doing in the legal capacity against these type of places.
The Chief than did something I was not expecting he spoke honestly from his heart about how he was effected by a Human Trafficking Survivors story. About how he felt our town could do more than just drive these businesses away but how we could help save women. Not once did he use the word try he made a statement that we as Westerville will help women who have been forced into this life of sexual servitude. He said it was Important to him to do more. I shook his hand that night and said Thank you for caring and I meant it. He was emotional and he meant what he said.
We are Westerville
I took a few days to get back to my life as I had put most things on hold for 2 weeks while I made myself into a community activist. I was at the vet with my dog Doyle on Saturday getting some bad news. News that at the time sucked sucked worse than anything. My dog was dying and it appeared it was happening quickly.
At the same time two families in Westerville were getting news that someone they loved dearly had died that afternoon. I had not even dried my tears about my baby Doyle when my mind started racing. Please don’t let it be my friends husbands. What happened? How did this happen in Westerville. Was it someone I knew or were they one of the many many police officers that came to the restaurant I worked at. How did this happen in Westerville.
How did this happen in Westerville??? Sadly it happened the way many police shootings happen. A woman in a bad domestic situation called for help the police came and everything went sideways… That is such a ridiculously simple explanation for such a tragic set of events. I know that most police view domestic disturbances as one of the most dangerous calls they ever have to go on. I know this because for a few years I lived with a police officer and we talked about her fears and that was at the top of the list.
Westerville the town that made local news a few weeks ago by organizing against human traffickers was now International News for the death of two police officers. We were a city in shock!! We did not know what to do. So a community organized again. this time to show the families of these officers we cared but also to grieve along with them.
We are Westerville(Strong)
We may seem like a big town with 40,000 people but we are a small town at heart. I have not met anyone that has not been touched in some way by this tragedy. There are those people I know who first responded to the call for help.
Many kids and young adults that knew the officers thru their work at the public schools and the library. There is the vast network of friends and acquaintances who knew and loved those men and their wives . Many businesses all over town who over the years have served those officers and their brothers and sisters in blue a pizza, a burger or a beer.
We were connected by grief. We tried to ease our pain by buying up every blue ribbon and every light bulb in every store in town and the surrounding area. People gathered in groups and wrapped trees and fences. We spoke to our neighbors maybe for the first time and with hope not the last. Drivers let other drivers into traffic, we held doors. We bought flowers and food and drink and delivered those items to the police station. As a community we grew a memorial. It started as a flower and a candle in a weeks time it grew to a shrine.
We were sad. We openly cried. Children held their parents hands and walked by police officers and said thank you.
We are Westerville(Strong)
We were a community that came together over tragedy. It felt for me like a continuation of the community pulling together just a week before. Our police chief was on TV he spoke about his friends and fellow officers Morelli and Joering. He wept openly he was filled with emotion and he reinforced something I was sure of on the day he shook my hand only a week earlier and that he is one of the good ones. His heart is huge and he cares. We needed him and he needed us.
The week felt like 10. The town came out by the 1000’s as the Officers were brought to the funeral homes. We drove by those funeral homes all week seeing a lone police car stationed at the entrance keeping watch over their brothers. The job of making and delivering food to fire houses and police stations commenced. We kept serving the public and the public kept buying…Flowers, ribbon light bulbs, pizza, donuts, pasta, snacks, drinks. We as Americans always feed people when they are grieving. It is what we do because it makes us feel better and we hope a hot meal makes those hurting feel better. Food made with love and shared with love can touch a persons soul. We are Westerville(Strong)
As I waited tables this week I saw people cry. Children asked parents hard questions ? Parents tried to explain how two police officers gave the ultimate sacrifice. I saw people trying to deal with their place in this tragedy. The week passed the memorials got bigger, the town got sadder. Westerville moved closer to saying our final goodbyes.
We are Westerville(Strong)
We woke Friday morning to a crazy swing in weather the 60 degree weather and rain was gone from Thursday and the sky had turned grey and brought with it a frigid cold. I thought to myself I wonder if people will still line the streets for the procession. It was so cold and the week so long.
I sat down to have my coffee thinking about those in Westerville and what our little community had done and what today would bring. It was nice what the community did, if it had all ended there the families of our towns fallen officers knew our community cared. I made the decision no matter the weather I would stand on the route and honor these men husbands, fathers community members and protectors of their fellow citizens.
It turns out that was not how my day would go. I got a text asking me to come in early as we were going to be feeding the firemen and women who came to cover Westerville fire houses so our fire department could goto the funeral. I did not know when the day started I would come to view the simple act of delivering an honor. The fire houses were quiet when we arrived with our food. The men and women were over the top grateful and we held back tears as we gave them their food. I think we all felt it there was something that none of has experienced before about to happen. As we drove back to work it became clear that what was happening was going to be something extraordinary.The police vehicles lined the roads as far as you could see. There was a tranquility as you drove thru town that I cannot explain but I could feel it.
We went back to the pizza shop and watched the service on TV as we prepared food for our regular cast of Friday night customers. As the service ended and we could see on the TV the procession starting our phone stopped ringing.
The last turn of the procession took place in front of our pizza shop. My boss and I went out onto the corner. Cars stopped in either direction a line of police motorcycles came by lights flashing but silent. The whole world became silent as car after car came by… Minneapolis Minnesota My home state was there. Illinois, Louisiana, Indiana Kentucky and on and on. Police cars filed past us for nearly 2 hours.
The past week we were one community but Friday The whole country came to us. They came for the Morelli and Joering families they came for the police and fire departments and they came for us, the little town of Westerville.
We are Westerville(Strong)
Honestly we needed it. The count I have heard was about 2200 Vehicles and 2700 Police and fire personal. plus 1000’s and 1000’s of community member who lined the route for the officers last ride. A ride which stretched nearly 6 miles in length. When it started we did not know how we needed it. By the time it was over it was clearly the exact amount of love a community who lost two police officers needed.
I went back to slinging pizzas last night after an unbelievably emotional week. When I got home looking exhausted and tired. I ate some of the cookies my cousin sent me they were made with love and they warmed my heart and my belly but they did one last thing ..They reminded me there are far more good people in this world than bad.