Editorial: The heroes lost in Baton Rouge

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Montrell Jackson was 32 and married with a 4-month-old baby. He had been a Baton Rouge police officer for 10 years and was president of his Denham Springs neighborhood association.

Matthew Gerald, 41, had served in the Marines and the Army and did three tours in Iraq without being harmed. He and his wife celebrated their fourth anniversary two weeks ago. He had been a Baton Rouge police officer for less than a year.

At age 45, Brad Garafola was a 24-year veteran of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office. He had four children, ages 7 to 21, and worked a security detail for B-Quik stores around Baton Rouge in his spare time.

These three beloved men died doing their duty Sunday: trying to protect the people of Baton Rouge. Their loss leaves a void not only in their families but across the city. "Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is intact," State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said during a press conference Monday. "Our soul has survived an unthinkable crime committed against this community."

Col. Edmonson said the officers were ambushed. According to radio traffic, Baton Rouge police answered a 911 call reporting a man with an assault rifle on Airline Highway Sunday morning. When officers arrived, the gunman opened fire on them near a B-Quik store. In addition to the three officers who were killed, three other officers were wounded.

The shooter, who was killed by a SWAT officer, was a Kansas City, Mo., resident who had been in Baton Rouge for a few days. Gavin Long, who had three guns and moved between buildings as he was firing, specifically targeted the police officers, Col. Edmonson said. As investigators sort out this horrific crime, people across Louisiana are in mourning. The pain is worst, of course, in Baton Rouge.

Officer Jackson was the "backbone of the family," his uncle Charles Cavallier said. He liked being a police officer, "and he always tried to be fair."

The officer wrote a heart-wrenching post on his Facebook page July 8, three days after city police shot and killed Alton Sterling outside the Triple S Food Mart. "These are trying times. Please don't let hate infect your heart ... I'm working in these streets so protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you."

Nine days later, he is gone.

Officer Gerald came home from Iraq and still wanted to serve, so he joined the Police Department, a friend told The Washington Post.

"Matt was the kind of guy that you knew immediately when he entered the room," said Ryan D. Cabral, who served with him in Iraq. "Whether it was the energy he carried with him or that Cajun accent he had ... maybe it was the Marine in him."

The BRPD rookie officer loved spending time with his wife and two daughters and on his bass boat, his friend said.

Brad Garafola, 45, was a 24-year veteran of the sheriff's office. "He would give you the shirt off his back," said Ann Lundgren, who manages the B-Quik on Perkins Road. "We lost a member of our family," she said Monday. "He's got four beautiful kids. I just don't know. Senseless."

Officer Garafola's wife, Tonja, posted a tribute on Facebook. "Brad was such a wonderful husband, father and friend," she wrote. "He loved his family to the absolute fullest and we were always his number one. He gave his all in everything he did!!"

A statement from the Baton Rouge Police Department said the officers demonstrated "what it means to protect and serve." Gov. John Bel Edwards called them heroic and said they ran toward danger Sunday morning.

We owe them a debt of gratitude for sacrificing themselves to keep the rest of us safe.

~ The New Orleans Times-Picayune


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