ELYRIA - Believing she would always have tomorrow, Misty Kerstetter said she planned to one day tell her father just how proud she was of him.
But the tomorrows weren't to be. Her dad - Elyria police Officer James Kerstetter - died March 15, when he was shot and killed in the line of duty, the first Elyria police officer to die that way in 67 years.
"It has been an honor to be your daughter," Misty said Saturday as she stood at a podium before the 2,000 people - many in law enforcement blue - who attended her father's funeral service at Lorain County Community College's Ewing Field House. "I am so proud of what you did. You are a hero to me and to so many others."
The slain officer, known as Jimmy to his family and Sponge to his friends, was eulogized in a massive ceremony that started in the field house and continued afterward with a procession of nearly 400 law enforcement vehicles representing police forces from across the state and nation escorting the hearse.
The procession traveled from LCCC to downtown Elyria - pausing at the Elyria Police Station - before traveling to Resthaven Memory Garden in Avon, not far from his family's Sheffield home, where he was buried after receiving a 21-gun salute.
All along the processional route, the streets were lined with people wanting to pay their respects - waving flags, holding handmade signs of thanks and wiping away tears.
During the 70-minute service at the field house, the Rev. Al Krupp, pastor of St. Agnes Church, started his homily by having everyone stand up and offer a salute - followed by a thunderous round of applause.
"How gravely we will all miss this great man who has given us a perfect gift," Krupp said. "Forty-three years of life was a gift. Nineteen years of marriage was a gift and 15 years of police service was a gift."
If Kerstetter's life was a gift, it was one he never squandered, said Hammonds, Kerstetter's friend and partner since they joined the force together in September 1994.
Hammonds said he watched Kerstetter grow from a rookie cop who loved to help people to a 15-year veteran who still enjoyed helping people. In doing what he loved, he never knew defeat, Hammonds said. And Kerstetter wasn't defeated when he was gunned down on the city's south side - instead, he victoriously gave his life doing what he loved, Hammonds said.
"You've earned your rest, buddy," he said.
Hammonds served as the escort for Kerstetter's wife, Tammy, at the service, and he led her and her family - daughters Misty, Shelby and Bailey - to their seats in front of the flag-draped casket along with Kerstetter's parents, James and Carol, and his sisters and their families.
Eight Elyria police officers served as pallbearers for their fallen comrade.
Mayor Bill Grace also spoke at the service, saying Kerstetter was an inspiration to other officers - working hard to be the best.
Grace said he has often thought about what kind of officers are the best fit for the city: those who are smart, well-trained, dedicated to always doing their best, strong in body and spirit, fair, kind and compassionate have what Elyria residents hope to find in their officers.
In Kerstetter, the city got them all, he said.
"Misty, Shelby and Bailey, I just described your dad," Grace said.
Shelby Kerstetter, 14, wasn't supposed to speak at the service. But she joined Misty at the podium and choked back tears as she told the crowd about her dad.
"He was the best dad," she said. "I can't believe he's gone."
Kerstetter's longtime best friend, Paul Brimlow, struggled to stay composed as he faced the crowd. The two talked daily, and Brimlow said Kerstetter knew the dangers of his job and often talked about the adventures he had with fellow Elyria cops.
There was never a question in his mind he wouldn't be alongside them every day, Brimlow said.
"Even though he knew the risks, every day he ironed his shirt, shined his shoes, put on his duty belt and drove off to his job because he loved it," he said. "I will miss him, but I know no matter what, he loved his job."
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.