Saying goodbye

Leo to be laid to rest today

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Mourners wait in the rain outside the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown to attend the calling hours for slain Girard police officer Justin Leo Saturday. An estimated 500 people came throughout the day.

YOUNGSTOWN — The line outside the Covelli Centre Saturday stretched around the corner of the building as people who knew Justin Leo came to pay their respects for the slain Girard police officer.

A soft cold drizzle fell upon the line of people that attended calling hours. Some arrived as early as noon even though the calling hours did not begin until 2 p.m. They lasted until 6 p.m. and it is estimated 500 people came throughout the day.

Youngstown police officers and Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office deputies were outside the perimeter of the building controlling the traffic as hundreds of cars filled the parking lot. There were hundreds of law enforcement officers from throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and other states who came to pay their respects to their fallen comrade and his grieving family.

Leo, 31, was killed at 10:19 p.m. Oct. 21 while responding to a domestic violence call at 408 Indiana Ave. in Girard.

A police officer in the city where he grew up, Leo came to be known as someone who went beyond strictly carrying out the laws on the books. He did what he could to provide assistance even when it was outside of police duties.

Brandon Hudak, who first met Justin Leo when they both were in the third grade, was not surprised to hear that Leo was a police officer who went beyond basic law enforcement to helping people on his own.

“That was the kind of person he was,” Hudak said as he walked out of the calling hours. “After we graduated and I needed help, Justin was there.

“He was not the kind of person who sought credit for the things he did,” said Hudak, who now lives in Oil City, Pa. “What he would do usually was kept between the persons he helped and himself. He wanted it that way.”

“He never talked bad about anybody,” Hudak said.

Inside the Covelli Centre were thousands of flowers, pictures and cards made by local school children and candles, according to Jessica Medley, a Girard resident who lives less than three blocks away from where the fatal shooting took place.

“There were a lot of tears,” she said.

While Medley was not a friend of the young police officer, she described one encounter with him when he responded to a call in which she needed help.

“He came, addressed the problem I was having and told me to call him anytime,” Medley said. “That left an impression.”

Medley said the community is still getting over the shock of the shooting.

“It is an overwhelming sense of loss,” she said.

The large turnout of area residents and law enforcement officers made Darlene Mathews appreciate the closeness of people who live in the city as well as those that moved away.

“Girard is a tight community,” she said. “It is a community that stands together during difficult times.”

Mathews, who now lives in Youngstown, described Leo as a person who loved Girard.

Thomas J. Rocker Sr., police chief of Marshallville Village in Wayne County, drove 65 miles to Youngstown in full dress uniform to pay respects to the fallen officer and his family.

“I hope that seeing so many law enforcement officers here helps the family,” Rocker said. “It is important for us to show solidarity.”

Rocker said he hugged Leo’s mother and gave condolences to his father.

“Police officers are what is between the average citizen and the bad guys,” Rocker said.

Leo’s parents, Pat and David, were up front, making sure they shook the hands of every law enforcement officer attended the service, according to Rocker.

Each of the attendees were given a blue-and-black ribbon to wear on their lapels and many officers had black ribbons.

“This has been a terrible time for those of us wearing a badge,” said Howland police officer Eric Bowker. “We are out here to make a difference and something like this happens.”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin attended the calling hours not only to pay his respect to Leo and his parents, but also to show his appreciation and support for area law enforcement officers.

“When something like this happens, it is a reminder of how dangerous it is every time an officer goes out on a call,” Franklin said. “It reinforces the appreciation and the value we have for police officers.”

Leo’s funeral is 1 p.m. today at Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center, 224 W. Spring St., Youngstown.