BLUFFTON, Ohio (WJW) – Exactly one week since the death of Bluffton police officer Dominic Francis, the University of Bluffton was setting up a gymnasium at the Sommer Center preparing for his funeral on Friday.
Francis was hit and killed while deploying stop sticks about 3 a.m. on March 31 on Interstate 75 during a high-speed chase involving troopers with the Ohio Highway Patrol in pursuit of a black Infinity sedan with three occupants, clocked at over 100 miles per hour.
During his funeral at the university on Friday, he will be remembered as a dedicated and beloved husband, father, police officer, firefighter, bus driver, teacher and coach.
“It was really shocking for all of us that Thursday morning to get the news and the call that officer Francis had lost his life that morning,” said Robin Bowlus, Bluffton University’s Vice President of Advancement.
Bowlus said the university offered the Sommer Center for the funeral service understanding that as many as 4,000 and 5,000 police officers and first responders from across the country are expected to come.
That is in addition to local residents in the community of only about 4,000 who wish to pay last respects.
At the university, Bowlus says Francis was no stranger. He had previously helped provide security for events in the very building that will host his funeral.
Bowlus said Fowler was also on campus the night he was killed.
“We had a fire alarm go off at one of our residence halls around midnight and he came to campus and helped with that situation, escorted the students out and then the students told stories about how he held the door open for them when they went back in the dorm,” said Bowlus, adding that Francis was also joking with students and asking who burnt the popcorn.
Across Bluffton, the village is adorned with signs, flags and blue ribbons honoring the service of Francis and other law enforcement officers in preparation for the funeral procession.
The community was passing out ‘blue-line’ flags for free to place in yards and there were many takers.
“In a small-town community like this, it means everything,” said Kim Matter, a Bluffton resident.
“I hope that it kind of sends a message to all of the other people in all of the other communities that no matter what you think of law enforcement, first responders, they are out there doing their job to protect us,” said Vince Hemry, who lives just outside of the village.
The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday.
Bluffton University is making several of its other buildings available for an anticipated overflow crowd.