Baton Rouge holds vigils for slain officers
Police | Men remembered for their love of cars and devotion to their families
by Molly Hulsey
Posted 7/20/16, 10:10 am
Baton Rouge law enforcement officers Brad Garafola, Matthew Gerald, and Montrell Jackson loved to showcase their horse-powered toys.
On Facebook, Jackson proudly posted photos of his “garage queen”—a slick, coal-black Camaro—along with shots of his 4-month-old son, date-night kisses from his wife, and police artwork.
His zest for wheels and people didn’t go unnoticed in the community. Jackson made friends in auto shops, on the road, and through car enthusiast groups, including the local monthly car show Cars & Coffee Baton Rogue. Group members took to Facebook to remember Jackson.
“This is upsetting. I had met him a couple times. Super nice guy. It never came up that he was an officer,” commented one member, while another recalled Jackson as “such an amazing fellow.”
Two days after the shooting that took the lives of Jackson, Garafola, and Gerald, friends, family, and community members gathered last night at vigils throughout the city to call for unity. Outside police headquarters, where hundreds came to pay their respects, a bugler played taps.
“Y’all realize what this means to us?” police Lt. Robert McGarner asked, fighting back tears.
Funerals for the officers will be held later this week. And on Saturday, Cars & Coffee Baton Rogue is planning a “Black and Blue” fundraiser for the fallen officers’ families.
Like Jackson, Garafola also loved to work on cars. One of the East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy’s current projects involved revamping a car for his 15-year-old daughter, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Gerald’s neighbor, Ashley Poe, remembered him pulling his new cruiser into the driveway for a wash after the former Marine graduated from the police academy several months ago. The police car glinted in the sun as Gerald rinsed it off with zeal and tested his blue lights: flicking them on and off, on and off.
Poe and her husband chuckled, thinking the 41-year-old looked just like an ecstatic kid.
“It’s like living out the dream,” Poe said.
But cars were far from the only passion that drove the slain officers.
Garafola’s wife, Tonja, said in a statement her husband always put family first. The couple has two sons, aged 21 and 12, and two daughters, aged 15 and 7.
“As me and the kids piled up in our bed last night, we prayed hard and we told each other it was ‘bedthirty’ because that’s what daddy always said,” she said. “Brad I love you so much, and I don’t know how to do this without you, you’re my best friend, my rock and my hero!!!”
On Sunday, Tonja drove to the B-Quik convenience store where Garafola was wrapping up his Sunday shift to pick him up for a family trip. She had no idea he’d already been shot.
As the attack unfolded, Garafola tried to draw the shooter—a former Marine, radical vlogger, and self-proclaimed member of a black anti-government group—away from other collapsed officers by ambushing him from behind a dumpster. Long killed him too.
Gerald also left behind a wife and two daughters, and Jackson left behind a wife and a long-awaited baby boy, Mason, among other family members.
“He’s going to grow up without a father,” Jackson’s sister-in-law, Rose, said of Mason. “But we’ll be there to give him memories and let him know how his dad was great man, and how he died with honor. …Hopefully one day, he’ll be like his dad.”
Kedrick Pitts, Jackson’s half-brother, remembered him for his seven-days-a-week work ethic, good humor, and enormous shoe collection. Jackson’s father-in-law, Lonnie Jordan, dubbed the 6-foot-3-inch officer “a gentle giant.”
Alongside photos of his Camaro, Jackson poured his heart into a Facebook post on July 8—one day after the shooting of five Dallas police officers, violence triggered in part by the police shooting of African-American Alton Sterling in Baton Rogue
“I swear to God I love this city, but I wonder if this city loves me,” he wrote. “In uniform, I get nasty hateful looks, and out of my uniform some consider me a threat. These are trying times. Don’t let hate infect your heart.”
He concluded his post by telling anyone on the street—protester, officer, friend, or stranger—if they needed a hug or a prayer: “I got you.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Molly is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD intern.