The three law enforcement officers slain Sunday in what authorities call an ambush-style attack in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, include a new father, a 24-year sheriff’s deputy, and an Army veteran of the Iraq War who joined the police force this year and had just been assigned his first squad car.
The officers were shot down as they responded to calls of a man with a gun walking near a commercial street. Three other officers were wounded before the shooter was killed by a Baton Rouge SWAT team member.
Authorities combing through the background of shooter Gavin Long ― a 29-year-old from St. Louis man who was a Marine veteran, self-published author, and one-time fitness coach ― said he may have been motivated by ties to anti-government “sovereign citizen” groups, and anger over recent killings of black men by police.
“He came here from somewhere else to do harm to our community, specifically the law enforcement in our community,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday in a statement statement.
Tensions around the U.S. have been high recently following fatal shootings of black men by police ― one in Baton Rouge, and one in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota ― less than 48 hours apart, and last week’s fatal shooting of five police officers in Dallas.
“Our hearts are broken but our spirit is intact,” Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said Monday. “Our soul has survived an unthinkable crime committed against this community.”
Here are the officers who lost their lives in Baton Rouge:
Montrell Jackson, 32 ― Baton Rouge Police Department
Montrell Jackson had recently celebrated two major milestones. Last month, he marked his 10-year anniversary on the Baton Rouge police force. Three months earlier, he welcomed his first child, a son named Mason.
Jackson came from a family of law enforcement officers, his brother, Kedrick Pitts, told NPR. He “loved his job, he worked his job seven days a week,” Pitts said.
Friend Darnell Murdock described Jackson as “humble, kind and sweet,” according to The Advocate.
“He wasn’t on there to write tickets,” Murdock said. “I don’t understand how this could happen to someone like him.”
“Please don’t let hate infect your heart" Montrell Jackson, in a July 8 Facebook post
Jackson had been praised for his dedication, including a 2007 incident in which he was injured trying to save a toddler from a burning building.
Just two weeks before his death, Jackson penned an emotional message on Facebook that went viral about the difficulty in being both a black man and a police officer in America.
“I’m tired physically and emotionally,” Jackson wrote July 8. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”
Jackson ended on a more hopeful note:
“Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protestors, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you.”
Jackson is survived by his wife and son. A GoFundMe page has been set up in his honor.
Matthew Gerald, 41 ― Baton Rouge Police Department
Matthew Gerald, a married father of two, joined the police force in October, but was no stranger to service. He had served multiple tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
“We did our time in the military, and when that time was up, you just can’t turn off that want to serve the people,” Ryan Cabral, who served with Gerald in Iraq, told The Washington Post. “Today he did his final service by giving his life to protect the citizens of Baton Rouge and his fellow brothers and sisters in uniform.”
“Instead of slowing down at 40 years old, he said, ‘Hell no, give me more,’” Cabral told CNN in a separate interview. “Matt was born to protect those who needed protection.”
Gerald and his wife, Dechia, had celebrated their fourth anniversary two weeks before his killing, according to local TV station WWL. The couple were raising one young daughter they had together and Dechia’s daughter from a previous relationship, whom Gerald adopted as his own.
His neighbor, Stephanie Morgan, told The Advocate that Gerald had been assigned his own police cruiser roughly two months ago and took pride in cleaning it.
“Every time he wasn’t on duty, Matt would be washing that car,” Morgan said. “He would have the seats pulled back.”
“He was a damn good man,” Morgan added. “You’re not going to find any better.”
Gerald is survived by his wife and two children. A GoFundMe page has been set up in his honor.
Brad Garafola, 45 ― East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
Brad Garafola was an East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy with 24 years experience. He also moonlighted as a security guard at the B-Quik convenience store, where he had just finished a shift before he was shot.
He was a married father of four children, aged 7 to 21. His wife was to pick him up at the store on Sunday, and they had planned to leave on a family vacation, The Times-Picayune reported.
“Our hearts are completely broken and still in disbelief of it all. Brad was such wonderful husband, father and friend,” his wife, Tonja Garafola, wrote on Facebook. “He loved his family to the absolute fullest and we were always his number one. He gave his all in everything he did!!
Around the house, Garafola was a handyman who’d built a deck for the family’s pool. He’d been working on a car in their garage that his 15-year-old daughter would use to learn how to drive, The Advocate reported.
“This family lost a husband and a father by the hands of someone that he would have helped instead of hurting,” James Cooper, a relative, wrote on a GoFundMe page for Garafola’s family. “Deputy Garafola was one Officer who would truly give you whatever you needed and go without and never ask for anything in return, regardless of race, creed or color.”
Garafola is survived by his wife and four children. A GoFundMe has been established in his honor.