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Residents line procession route, express sorrow, anger over death

ELYRIA - A crowd of hundreds swelled into the street in front of the Police Department Saturday afternoon as the funeral procession bearing the body of slain Elyria police Officer James Kerstetter wove through Elyria from his funeral to a cemetery in Avon.

Ladder trucks from the Lorain and Elyria fire departments held a large American flag over Lake Avenue and when the procession paused in front of the station, the crowd broke into applause in honor of the first Elyria police officer killed in the line of duty in 67 years.

People carried signs and waved American flags as 383 vehicles representing more than 140 police departments filed by for nearly 40 minutes. Residents silently wiped tears, and almost no one spoke as the cars passed by.

Crowds at the station, as well as those gathered in the morning in front of Lorain County Community College, where the funeral service was held, expressed fear and anger, but sadness and a need to show Kerstetter's family support were the overriding emotions of the day.

Kerstetter, 43, was shot Monday night while responding to a call that a naked man had kicked in the window at a neighbor's 18th Street house and exposed himself to her child. Kerstetter leaves behind a wife and three daughters.

People began lining up along Broad Street from Cleveland Street to West Avenue around 11 a.m. They also lined Lake Avenue from Broad Street to West River Road. In the morning, people lined North Abbe Road from state Route 57 to the college's south entrance.

Jeannie Motylewski, 43, of Avon Lake, is married to sheriff's Deputy Charles Motylewski and said she and others have been struggling all week with fears the wives and family members of police officers understand and deal with every single day.

"Every wife of a cop knows when you marry a cop, they're marrying the job," she said. "You always fear that knock on the door. It never goes away. It doesn't matter if it's a cop in Cleveland or if it's one you know. (Tammy Kerstetter) got the knock on the door. Every wife knows, 'That could have been my husband.' "

The procession by the police station was led by an Ohio Highway Patrol car and followed by a contingent of Cleveland police officers on motorcycles. Several dozen Elyria patrol cars were next before Kerstetter's patrol car, its emergency lights wrapped in black with "Out of Service" written across them, appeared followed by the hearse and Kerstetter's family. Kerstetter's three daughters, Misty, Shelby and Bailey, smiled through tears and waved from the back of a limousine to the crowds paying their respects.

Ronald Brown, 42, of Elyria, said as a former military man, he was there to show respect.

"I try to honor that," he said. "I don't really know what happened, but I feel bad for him dying protecting us, serving the city."

Forty-two year-old Patty Rone, of Elyria, worked with Kerstetter at Wendy's when they were teenagers.

"I felt really, really sad," she said about hearing of Kerstetter's death. "I felt really bad and I just want to let the family to know they're in my thoughts and prayers."

Balloons, signs and American flags also lined state Route 57 and North Abbe Road as more than 100 vehicles carrying police officers and their families, some stoic, others openly crying, to the college for the funeral Saturday morning.

The parking lot at the college was filled with police cars from all over the state. Signs along both routes proclaimed, "Hero! #177," "We love you Officer Kerstetter," "You Will Never Be Forgotten," "Thank you," "Elyria has a hole in its heart," "God Bless You," "Our Prayers Are With The Kerstetter Family God Bless You Badge #177" and "Officer Kerstetter Guarding the Gates of Heaven."

Officers from the county Sheriff's Office, the Highway Patrol and Elyria police directing traffic at the entrance to the college silently saluted as the 100-vehicle procession arrived at the college. The officers remained at attention, saluting, until the last Elyria patrol car passed.

St. Jude fourth-grade teacher Cindy Griffiths, 43, of Elyria, was there with her husband and two children.

"I feel anger," she said, "anger at the violence in our society, this needless taking of a life. I feel terrible for his family and his extended family in law enforcement and the fire department. We've been through a lot in Elyria with our safety forces and maybe this will bring them together and help the community to heal. ... It's the right thing to do to come here and to show our respect. ... I'm praying for them."

Mary Balderson, 55, of Elyria, said she was frightened by the news of Kerstetter's death.

"A piece of our protection has been taken away," she said. "When they're supposed to protect us and they are removed suddenly, it's very frightening because they're our protection in our city. You get an unsettling feeling."

Two ladder trucks from area fire departments draped a large American flag over the roadway at the college's entrance and dozens of people gathered along the street and in front of a sign flashing the message, "In Memory of James A. Kerstetter, Patrolman Elyria Police Department, End of Watch March 15, 2010, Heroes Live Forever."

Mark McLaughlin, 52, of Elyria, a programmer/analyst with Macy's, said he came to show respect for "one of Elyria's best. It's just sad and tragic that something like that can happen to anyone in the line of duty, just doing their job."

Eight-year-old Luke Costantino, a second-grader at St. Jude's in Elyria, said he wanted to show his support and respect for the Kerstetter family. He's trying to understand what happened.

"My mom explained to me it wasn't his fault," Luke said. "He was just going to give a ticket for something bad. I don't think he should've got shot for that."

Tanika Thomas, 35, of Lorain, is married to a corrections officer in the Lorain County Jail. Thomas said she was there to support Kerstetter's family.

"As a wife and knowing the danger they face each and every day, well, we're here mostly for the support of the family," she said.

Retired U.S. Steel worker Frank Russo, 63, of Elyria, wanted Kerstetter's family to know they have the support of the community.

"This is a tragedy that probably shouldn't have happened anywhere," he said. "In a community like Elyria, we should show support for the family. My heart goes out to them. It's absolutely a terrible tragedy."

Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7144 or acastelli@chroniclet.com.



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