ELYRIA — For hours, they stood in line Thursday, somberly waiting for their chance to pay their respects to the family of slain Elyria police Officer James Kerstetter.
Hundreds and hundreds of people showed up on the first day of visitation for Kerstetter, who was shot and killed Monday night. A second visitation is 2 to 9 p.m. today at the funeral home.
The line stretched out of the Bauer-Laubenthal-Mercado Funeral Home at Chestnut Ridge Road and state Route 57 for most of the day. Inside, those waiting to pay respects watched Kerstetter grow from child to proud father in the pictures placed on poster boards propped up wherever there was space. There was the picture of the smiling papa as he escorted his daughter across a football field for a homecoming game. The husband hugging his high school sweetheart turned wife. And the dad making popcorn balls with his children and sliding down a waterslide on vacation.
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His family — wife Tammy and their daughters Misty, Shelby and Bailey; his three sisters and their husbands; and his parents, Carol and James Kerstetter Sr. — stood near the casket. Exhaustion showed on their faces as they shook hands or exchanged hugs with each person who walked through the door.
Kerstetter, a 15-year veteran on the police force who typically worked the night shift, answered a call about a man exposing himself to a 10-year-old girl and was gunned down when he confronted the suspect inside the man’s home. On Saturday, the Sheffield resident will be eulogized in a private funeral at Lorain County Community College’s Ewing Field House and laid to rest at Resthaven Memory Gardens in Avon.
As mourners stood in line, stories about how they knew Kersetter — Jimmy to most — were shared, accompanied by tears and laughs.
A high school friend said Kersetter could make the teachers in school love him even when he was acting up. A woman said he was the kind of guy who made little boys who met him want to grow up to be police officers.
Tawny Adams, whose late husband John worked with Kerstetter at the Elyria Police Department, said it was a testament to the love people felt for Kerstetter that they waited in a line for three hours to pay their respects.
“Everyone was patient and cooperative,” she said, standing with her children Taylor, 11, and Brianna, 20. “No one left the line no matter how long the wait.”
She said the Kerstetter family was “awesome.”
“They made sure that you knew who everyone was that you were meeting,” she said.
Brianna Adams remembered seeing Kerstetter when she’d stop at a convenience store in the evenings, describing him as “down-to-earth.”
“It says a lot about the unity here that so many different people put aside time to come down and support one of their own,” she said. “He protected us. Now we have to help his family.”
In addition to old friends, Kersetter’s brothers in blue from Elyria, Lorain County and all over the state were on hand wearing black ribbons over their badges as a show of respect for their fallen comrade. Officers came from as far as Cincinnati and Columbus for Thursday’s visitation.
Each paused for a moment as they neared a police cruiser — Kerstetter’s — parked outside the funeral home.
J. Parrock of Elyria said he came to remember the officer he knew as “Sponge” during his three years working at a convenience store and sometimes having to work the overnight shift, when Kerstetter was on duty.
“I heard he got the nickname because if there was overtime to be had, he soaked it up,” Parrock said.
Parrock said that Kerstetter often showed up when the staff was shutting down beer sales to make sure there wasn’t any trouble. He remembered Kerstetter as always smiling, sometimes making a dry remark and keeping things peacable.
“It was hard seeing him today without that smile,” Parrock said.
And while his family, friends, old high school classmates and Elyrians waited for a chance to say goodbye, a woman who understands his wife’s pain more than most pinned blue ribbons to the chest of everyone who walked through the doors.
She was Grace Leon, the wife of slain Cleveland police Officer Wayne Leon, who was killed in June 2000.
Not that many knew that. But no one refused her ribbon, which is worn to honor fallen officers everywhere. Instead, they thanked her and continued to wait.
Staff writer Melissa Hebert contributed to this report.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.