Girard police chief remembers ride along days with Officer Leo

GIRARD, Ohio (WYTV) – For Girard Police Chief John Norman, the death of Officer Justin Leo hits very close to home.

“It goes back even before he was a police officer,” Norman said.

He’s known Leo’s parents since the days when Dave Leo was principal at Girard Intermediate School. At that time, Norman was the school resource officer.

The two families grew close.

“If I needed someone to watch the boys, Justin was there. He played Nintendo with them, he took them out to eat. We spent a lot of time with the family,” Norman said.

Years later as a young man, Leo got the bug and became interested in police work. Norman said Leo would go on ride alongs with officers.

Norman said he knew that eventually, Leo would come to serve the community somehow.

“Then when this came along, he started as a dispatcher for us,” Norman said. “I thought that was a good start, you know? That’s how I got here.”

Besides making policing his career choice, Norman said Leo also made friends in the department.

“You know if I’m not mistaking, the night before, there was a group of them that went and had dinner or went to somebody’s house and had dinner. I know the guys and Justin was part of that. They’d go to someone’s house and play cards and relax.”

Norman said learning Leo had been shot on Saturday night was the worst call of his life.

Since then, he’s been juggling his current duties as chief while knowing what has to be done with the investigations of both Leo’s death and the shooting death of suspect Jason Marble by another Girard officer.

None of this is easy for Norman.

Watch: Girard police chief remembers slain officer

Now as he and his officers try to come to grips with this, Norman gets emotional thinking of the unfathomable loss felt by Leo’s family.

“They’re a wonderful family. It’s just a wonderful family. So close to them. They have done so much for this community,” he said.

The Girard Police Department is also mourning the loss of its colleague and friend.

“Periods of we handle it and there’s periods where it’s real tough,” Norman said. “I think it’s just a wave of emotions right now.”

The one constant? The tremendous outpouring from the community.

“The support we have from them, the help — it’s amazing. It’s just amazing,” Norman said.

Since Saturday, the support has been coming from far and near, such as a memorial wreath sent from Florida and locals bringing in food at lunchtime.

“Food keeps coming in, flowers, fruit, cards from St. Rose, the kids at St. Rose, the kids at the intermediate school,” Norman said.

For now, he said he and his 16 officers know they still have a city to serve and protect.

“They’re doing it. They’re answering calls, they’re still going on calls, they’re still going to domestics, fights, and theft calls, and they’re still doing reports and our detective bureau’s still following up.”

Norman admitted they will all eventually need help getting through their grief. He said programs are already in place for whenever they’re needed.