'I'm at a loss without him': 80-year-old Crestview murder victim remembered as sweet, kind
CRESTVIEW — Frank Doerwald Sr. made many friends visiting the Shoal River Wayside Park just south of town.
A friendly and active 80-year-old, Doerwald frequently visited the park, also known as Duggan Park, and chatted with strangers every chance he got. No one ever imagined his life would end at the park in a "senseless" act of violence Saturday.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday after his body was found in the park with his car keys missing. The man believed to be responsible for the slaying, 22-year-old Jonny Ray Kirk, was later killed in a shootout with Escambia County Sheriff's Office deputies.
“I think what you have here is an individual who did not care about life,” Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons said of Kirk at a Monday press conference in Pensacola. “He did not care what his victims were like.”
Read more about the incident:Walton County man wanted for murder and kidnapping shot 10 rounds at deputies before being shot
More coverage:Man sought for questioning in Crestview area homicide
GoFundMe page started:Picking Up the Pieces-Murder of Frank Doerwald Sr.
Although Doerwald didn’t have any biological family in the area, there were many who loved him as one of their own. Kelly Cipriani and her family have been grappling with his death.
“I want people to know the man had a name, the man had a face and the man was completely loved,” Cipriani said.
Doerwald, an Army veteran, moved from Long Island, New York, to live with Cipriani in Crestview after his son passed away in May 2020. Cipriani was separated from Doerwald's son at the time, but maintained a close relationship with Doerwald, who she affectionately referred to as “Pops.”
“My father passed away in 2019, and prior to that I had met his son back in 2015,” Cipriani said. “So I’ve known him ever since then, and he’s been kind of like my other adopted dad.”
Losing his son took a toll on Doerwald, but he still found ways to stay active and get joy out of life, she said.
Doerwald had a routine of grabbing breakfast from McDonald's and taking it to a marina on Long Island. When he moved to Crestview, he continued that routine at the park.
“That’s where he found his enjoyment,” Cipriani said. “He loved that.”
Doerwald liked to meet people and would talk with strangers almost everywhere he went. Some of the interactions left a lasting mark. After his death, Cipriani said a couple who had met him at Walmart two weeks earlier reached out to her online.
The couple had noticed their 4-year-old daughter waving and smiling at someone. When they turned around, they saw Doerwald. The couple recalled him saying "I have to tell you, your daughter is absolutely adorable and you have such a beautiful family."
“They said, ‘We now know what you mean about your Pops. Thank God we had the pleasure of meeting such a nice gentleman,’ ” Cipriani said. “I was bawling reading this story. He was funny and just the sweetest, nicest man you’d ever meet.”
The last time Cipriani saw Doerwald was the morning before he was killed. She was at work when she got a call from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and a deputy asked her “How do you know Frank Doerwald Sr.?”
Many items were missing when investigators found his stolen vehicle abandoned in Mossy Head in Walton County. But Doerwald’s wallet was still there, and inside it was a piece of paper Cipriani had written her name and phone number on in case of an emergency — something she had learned to do because of her father’s dementia.
"My first words out of my mouth were 'Oh no. What did that old codger get himself into?' " Cipriani said. “I was trying to make light of the situation because I was nervous and I was worried about him.”
She didn’t immediately know what had happened. The deputies asked to meet with her in person. But when she found out an elderly man had been killed at the park, she came to the realization.
“I’m screaming and crying,” Cipriani said while recalling that moment. “I’m at a loss without him. I really am. To have somebody with you every day and to have them so abruptly and so violently taken away, it’s just hard to process.”
The night before Doerwald's death, he shared a special moment with Cipriani’s 3-year-old cat, Meiko. Upon returning home from work, Cipriani said he told her the cat had gotten into his lap, which was something neither of them could recall the cat ever doing before.
“He said, ‘He let me love on him for a little while.’ To me that shows how simple of a man he was. Something so minute like that brought him so much joy,” said Cipriani, who added that several people have told her, “That was Meiko’s way of saying goodbye.”
Cipriani said she is still coming to terms that her “Pops” is gone. Most cases conclude with an arrest and prosecution, but that wasn’t the case this time. At Monday's press conference, Simmons said Kirk left ECSO deputies little choice but to shoot him.
“There’s no winners in this thing. It’s very sad. It’s horrible. I know his family has got to be suffering just as much as I am,” Cipriani said. “Coming to terms with the fact that their son did such a heinous act, several heinous acts. It’s got to be hard. And I don’t hold any ill feelings toward the family.”
A GoFundMe page has been started to help Cipriani and her family “pick up the pieces,” and she hopes to hold a memorial service at a later date. She also hopes to make some improvements to the Shoal River Wayside Park in Frank Doerwald Sr.’s name. To donate, visit gofund.me/f362b70b.
“I don’t want people living in fear and I don’t want people to have the stigma of going to that park,” Cipriani said. “So if anything good could come out of this, maybe we could do something in Frank’s name to somehow change that park.”
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