ELYRIA — More than 100 people gathered in front of the Elyria Police Department on West Avenue for a brief but emotional tribute to Sgt. James Kerstetter, who was killed in the line of duty one year ago Tuesday.
The officer was promoted to sergeant posthumously.
Police cars parked in front of the building with their lights flashing as a crowd of community members gathered before 10 p.m. An impromptu memorial was built on the brick wall outside the station’s doors with pillar candles, a portrait of Kerstetter, balloons and flowers.
Shortly after 10 p.m. a stream of department employees, public officials, close friends and family members filed out of the station holding lit candles. A box of candles was passed out to the crowd, and while it was breezy, the rain had ceased, allowing people to gather in relative comfort. After a moment of silence where the crowd stood, heads bowed, hands shielding their candles’ flames from the wind, Lt. Andy Eichenlaub spoke.
“Those who say there are no heroes anymore, they just don’t know where to look,” Eichenlaub said.
He said it was ironic that peace officers, who bring peace to so many others’ lives, seldom find peace themselves.
After Eichenlaub led the crowd in prayer, Police Chief Duane Whitely spoke.
“There’s a lot of things Jimmy did … many, many times he would come in and make a comment that would make everybody laugh, and change the mood,” Whitely said.
Whitely encouraged people to try to pass that character on to others as a way of keeping the fallen officer’s memory alive.
“I miss Jimmy. And all of you miss Jimmy. You can’t lose somebody like that and not feel that way.”
After the chief finished speaking, a lone trumpeter played taps and many in the crowd broke down, sobbing.
Kathy Kerstetter attended the memorial along with other members of the Kerstetter family.
“It’s very overwhelming, and emotional,” Sgt. Kerstetter’s sister said, her voice cracking from the emotion. “We want to thank all the people who came out. It shows that Sgt. James Kerstetter will never be forgotten, which is what they stated last year.”
She said the ceremony was “short and sweet.”
“We are thankful for the people in the community … It was so overwhelming for us,” sister Kristeen Sawyers said.
Many in the crowd knew James through his work and remembered him as an exceptional officer.
“It’s just important that everyone comes out and remembers him,” friend Christina Neidert McKay said. “He’s such a great guy. He definitely stood apart as a great cop, he always made you smile.”
Even those who were on the business end of Sgt. Kerstetter’s work came to the memorial to show their respect.
“He arrested me a couple times, but he helped me. He was a nice guy,” Kenny McAuliff said. “He was always there.”
Whitely said that was a common theme among those who came forward after Kerstetter’s death.
Whitely said he got an e-mail from a woman who said her son became extremely upset after she told him about Kerstetter’s death.
“He was going down the wrong path, he was having issues, and Jimmy could have arrested him a couple of times, but he didn’t. He just talked to him,” Whitely said.
The man is now a member of the Army National Guard and was serving in the Honor Guard in Korea, Whitely said.
“He had credited Jimmy with that.”
Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at 329-7144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.