Father, friend remember slain Westerville officer from Massillon: He was 'a great friend to many'

MASSILON, Ohio - “I talked to a lot of my friends over the weekend, a lot of us had sleepless nights just thinking about this,” said George Roknich, a childhood friend of slain Westerville officer Tony Morelli.

Roknich played football with Morelli at Massillon High School. They graduated together in 1982. 

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“He was tough to block. He was a defensive end. He had a strong upper body which served him well in his career," Roknich told News 5 on Monday. "Tony was a great guy, he was a great teammate, a great classmate, a great friend to many, he had this indestructible force, he’s never going to be defeated, you would be honored to have him as a friend."

The childhood friends most recently saw each other at their 35th high school reunion. 

“It was quite a treat to be there, laughing, talking about old times," Roknich said. "Tony remembers more stories than anybody there, he mentions things that I even forget.”

Morelli studied criminal justice at Kent State University. He was married with two adult children.

“I feel so terrible for his family, and for his close relatives and friends," Roknich said. "I just really feel bad."

Morrelli’s father said he was too distraught to go on camera, but spoke by phone about his son.

He said Tony was a well-respected patrol officer and resource officer in the high school.

“He was just a blue collar guy. He went to work every day. Never refused overtime. Never, ever, ever heard him complain about anything,” he said. 

Officer Morelli’s daughter is getting married in June.

“He was excited about walking her down the aisle," he said. "Now he’s not going to be able to do it."

Massillon’s mayor said the city is planning to honor Morelli’s memory but plans are still being put together. The mayor sent the following statement:

"The City of Massillon is mourning the loss of Officer Anthony Morelli and the legacy he leaves as a 1982 Washington High School graduate and former defensive end for our beloved Massillon Tigers.  He was respected and loved by his coaches and fellow teammates.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his parents, Anthony and Carolyn, lifelong residents of our city as well as his wife, children and extended family as we remember Officer Morelli and the impact his life had in our city."

The families of both fallen officers, Officer Anthony Morelli and Officer Eric Joering, released the following statement Monday night:

“We’re very thankful for our family, friends and the Westerville community. We feel loved and blessed, and we are appreciative of the outpouring of support. We have seen and heard so much from people who have shared stories about how our men impacted their lives. They will be so greatly missed, not only by us, but by everyone they touched.

Our men were dedicated officers for certain, but we knew them as dedicated fathers and husbands. When they were home, they were home. They left work at work. We are so sad that Eric will not see his three daughters’ graduate from high school. We’re devastated Tony will not be able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

We want to thank the Westerville Division of Police, the Columbus Division of Police and all the police agencies in Central Ohio who have helped and supported us. We are thankful for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9 and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. We know we’re not going to remember everyone right now, but we want to express our gratitude for the kindness and generosity we have been shown.

We are requesting our privacy to mourn our lost husbands and fathers. We need time to heal. We will be granting no interviews at this time.”

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