CINCINNATI – Forty-four years after the fatal shooting of a Cincinnati police officer, there’s still a special bond between two men whose lives were deeply affected, and who honor him each year.
Nick Handorf and Bob Roebel have nearly become brothers over the years, brought together by the tragic death of Handorf’s big brother, Cincinnati police Sgt. Charles Handorf.
Neither man has forgotten the night in 1974 when Sgt. Handorf was gunned down in Sayler Park. Their memories were refreshed again Friday when they came together to honor the fallen officer at a ceremony outside the former District Three station on Warsaw Avenue in East Price Hill.
There’s a memorial plaque with Handorf’s likeness on the base of the flagpole in front.
Nick Handorf was the youngest of 15 children. Charles was the oldest.
“He was a great guy,” Nick remembered. “Nobody ever had any trouble with Charlie.”
Roebel, a Delhi Township police officer since retired, was next to Sgt. Handorf when he was shot.
“Everybody had good things to say about him and how innovative he was about being a copper,” Roebel said.
The tragedy happened on Dec. 8, 1974. Roebel had answered a call to help Cincinnati police with a SWAT situation. Herbert Merz had barricaded himself inside his house on Home City Avenue and wouldn't come out.
Roebel and Sgt. Handorf has taken cover behind a wall. All of a sudden, Merz appeared at a window and fired at the officers. Several officers fired back.
"I was able to get two rounds off. It was that quick," Roebel said. "He went down and I saw Charlie on the ground. I took his pulse and he was gone.”
Later, investigators determined that Roebel’s shots had killed Merz.
“It was tough for a while … I knew my shots took effect,” Roebel said. “I wasn't officially told for a while afterward because there was a lot of gunfire.
“That job can throw anything at you at any time and you always have be prepared, ready and alert.”
The yearly service for Sgt. Handorf has become soothing for both men. Dozens of police officers and friends gathered at the old District Three headquarters Friday. Bagpipes played as a wreath was laid in Sgt. Handorf's honor.
“All of us gather here so that an ordinary man of humble beginnings can inspire respect and love,” said Nick Handorf, now 72. “He showed me how to be strong as well as compassionate and even as I watched him, it did not sink in until I grew older.
“He was not perfect,” Nick said, “but he was the perfect example of what a man can be."
Sgt. Handoff carried a poem called “The Indispensible Man.” It talks about putting your hand in a bucket of water and ends with these two verses:
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you'll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.
The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There's no indispensable man.
Sgt. Handorf was doing paperwork at the station that night, hoping to leave on time, and had already ended his shift when the call came in for assistance.
He responded anyway.