3 Baton Rouge, La., Police Officers Killed By Gunman

Jul 18, 2016
Originally published on July 19, 2016 12:36 pm
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One of the officers shot in an ambush in Baton Rouge yesterday was released from the hospital today. Two more who were wounded remain hospitalized, one in critical condition. Three other officers were killed. NPR's Tovia Smith reports on how family members and friends are remembering those slain.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: When Matthew Gerald's wife, Dechia, saw news of yesterday's shooting she asked Facebook friends to, quote, "please pray." Many had sent messages urging him to be careful. But today, his first cousin, Jaylan Gerald, says the 41-year-old former U.S. Marine who flew Blackhawks in Iraq and Afghanistan was not afraid for himself.

JAYLAN GERALD: Knowing the person that he was, he went in trying to serve and protect.

SMITH: Gerald, a Baton Rouge firefighter, says his cousin Matthew commanded both respect and attention.

GERALD: So when he walked in, you knew he was there. And when he laughed, everybody heard it. He lit everything up.

SMITH: He says Gerald knew from a very young age that he wanted to serve, and loved doing what he did and teaching others to do it as well.

GERALD: He had a lot of pride in himself and his job, but he didn't want boast about it. And when people thanked him he said, hey, you know, I'm just doing my job.

SMITH: Gerald's wife posted on Facebook recently to mark their fourth anniversary, saying she was proud of how he wore so many titles - husband, daddy, friend - and his uniform so well. He was, by all accounts, a devoted family man who loved his wife and two daughters, as was 32-year-old Baton Rouge Police Corporal Montrell Jackson, who's survived by his wife and 4-month-old son.

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KEDRICK PITTS: He always wanted to be a father. And that's the most important thing to him.

SMITH: His brother, Kedrick Pitts, appearing on WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, says Jackson loved his job, both the thrill of it and being able to be there for others. Jackson, an African-American, said the police shooting of Alton Sterling, also in his city of Baton Rouge earlier this month, quote, "tested him to the core." He had posted on Facebook, quote, "I swear to god I love this city. But I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform, I get nasty, hateful looks. Out of uniform, some consider me a threat."

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PITTS: You know, and he still hurt. He wants justice for their family also. But he didn't want any hatred going on. He was a police officer. He wanted peace.

SMITH: Jackson had also posted that he was disappointed in some reckless comments, saying, quote, "don't let hate infect your heart." And he offered to everyone, if you need a hug or want to say a prayer, I got you. Officials described all three slain officers as heroes with servant hearts, including 45-year-old Deputy Sheriff Brad Garafola, who was working one last extra shift before he was supposed to leave with his wife and two kids for summer vacation.

EMILY GARAFOLA: Protect and serve - he literally did that on the clock and off the clock in every kind of way he could.

SMITH: His niece, 19-year-old Emily Garafola, says he was there for every family member from her dad, who's legally blind, to the younger set, admonishing them to steer clear of trouble while at the same time being there for them, like when she needed a ride home from a bar one night.

GARAFOLA: And he saved me (laughter). And he looked like a boss doing it, too.

SMITH: A childhood friend, Todd Horne, recalls Garafola as being the first to show up when he lost his sister.

TODD HORNE: A super-kind spirit, always wanting to help - the best of them.

SMITH: Horne says the tough cop Garafola was still known to some by his childhood nickname, Tootsie.

HORNE: And Tootsie means adored one, beloved one. And it was a good name for him.

SMITH: His wife, T. Garafola, posted simply, our hearts are completely broken. Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.