WARSAW — Twenty-five years after Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Detective Sergeant Phil Hochstetler was gunned down while investigating the theft of firearms at a home on East Clark Street, one of his three sons — Drew Hochstetler — finds himself back in the city where his father died and contemplating a career change.
The 29-year-old CNC machinist recently moved to Warsaw after a nearly year-long stint in Afghanistan with a National Guard unit. He and his wife, Katelyn, and their daughter had moved to Arizona two years ago, but when he headed off to Afghanistan, she and their child returned to Warsaw to be close to Katelyn’s family.
This week, as his active duty assignment expires, Drew is settling back into a normal routine in Warsaw.
“The timing is just kind of ironic,” Drew said earlier this week. “It wasn’t lost on me that my orders end on the 28th and my dad’s anniversary is on the 29th.”
Officer among three killed
Phil Hochstetler (pronounced ho-stetler) died on the evening of June 29, 1994. The 32-year-old had just finished his shift and decided to stop by the home of David Swearingen on East Clark Street — a block from where Hochstetler lived — to ask Swearingen about some firearms stolen earlier in the week.
They talked for a few minutes, according to a police report, but when Swearingen returned from a room, apparently under the pretense of turning over the guns, he chose to open fire. He shot Hochstetler three times before turning the gun on his own two children, who were four years old and 18 months old. Swearingen then fired a shot at his wife, LeAnn, but the gun jammed. He struck her with the weapon before fleeing on foot.
An intense 45-hour manhunt concluded with a slow-moving police case on an early Friday evening that started near the original crime scene and ended in a hail of gunfire at the corner of North Detroit and Market streets, where a stolen red pickup Swearingen was driving came to rest next to a newspaper box with a large visible headline about the ongoing search. Swearingen died hours later.
Fellow officers at the time of his death described Phil as a meticulous, hardworking officer who loved his work.
Phil was divorced at the time of his death. His ex-wife, Jill, and their three children, Drew, Doug and Dave, lived in Nappanee. Drew recalls that his father’s death was not a topic that came up at home while growing up. In fact, the subject was generally avoided.
Drew said he remembers nothing about his father. He was only four at the time, and over the years he has grown to understand what kind of cop he was and what he meant to the community through conversations with his father’s former colleagues.
A legacy of service is embedded in Drew’s name and, maybe, his blood.
His brother, Dave, has been a patrolman with Fort Wayne Police for four years and said he likes the work because of the variety it brings from day to day. He said his father’s legacy influenced his decision to become a police officer and that Drew has seen the satisfaction he gets from the work.
“I think it’s always been in the back of his mind, but him seeing me do it kind of re-enforced it,” Dave said.
Dave said he thinks Drew has the maturity and judgment needed to be a good officer.
Drew’s full name is Andrew Brant Hochstetler. The middle name is from his father’s former partner, Brant ” Butch” Nine, back when he worked with the Nappanee Police Department. Nine was killed in 1988 in a jewelry store shooting and Phil Hochstetler helped apprehend the suspect by shooting and injuring him.
Drew has been working as a CNC machinist for nearly a decade but admits the work is not fulfilling. He joined the Indiana National Guard in 2012 with a desire to serve. When he had the chance to go to Afghanistan, he took it. After his deployment, he re-enlisted for six more years.
But he says there is more he wants to do.
He said he “got the itch” to be a police officer about three years ago and that was amped up about a year ago when he had a chance to ride along with an officer in the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department under former Sheriff Rocky Goshert.
The experience was an eye-opener. He watched as the officer he shadowed did paperwork, checked on a VIN number for a boat, responded to a crash, investigated a domestic dispute and then helped clear wood from a road that had fallen off a truck. He said he liked the opportunity to help and interact with the public.
But what he really likes about a potential career in law enforcement is the sense of camaraderie that he grew to appreciate while in Afghanistan and noticed over the years when he talked with his father’s old friends.
Drew balks at the notion that he’s just trying to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Maybe it’s part of our makeup … Maybe there’s something there. To me, it’s just a really cool job — something that I can feel like I am making a difference,” Drew said.
He said he’s comfortable with what he calls the core level of sacrifice that comes with the territory.
“I’ve seen it before, I know what it is. I know I’m not immune to it, but it doesn’t bother me,” he said.
Drew has inquired about jobs with area law enforcement but admits the opportunities are uncertain and that he lacks a criminal justice degree that many applicants bring with them. In the meantime, he’s found a CNC job in Warsaw to help pay the bills.
At the same time, he stands ready if given the opportunity.
“I want to serve. I want to do something bigger than myself,” Hochstetler said.
There are three memorials honoring Phil Hochstetler in Warsaw.
A small memorial paid for by local companies is positioned on the north end of Central Park. Another, near Center Lake Pavilion, has a dual message about service. On one side is a tribute to 9-11 victims. On the other is a list of local emergency responders who have died in the line of duty. His dad’s name is one of five.
The third monument is positioned outside the main entrance of the sheriff’s office and includes an image of Phil with a mullet-style haircut and a smile.
Drew said the monuments bring about a sense of deep pride.
“I know he gave his life doing what he loved, and to me, that gives me peace.”