Baton Rouge readies for funerals of 3 slain police officers

AP News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2016 5:41 PM
Baton Rouge readies for funerals of 3 slain police officers

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Baton Rouge community is readying itself for the start of a somber period, filled with funerals and memorials for three officers killed by a gunman.

The law enforcement officers — Baton Rouge police officers Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola — were killed Sunday in what police described as an ambush.

"Knowing these guys were out there to protect and serve, I want to do my part," said Trey Ganem, a Texas-based maker of custom caskets who designed and donated the burial boxes for the services.

Visitation for Gerald, 41, is Thursday evening, with a funeral service to follow on Friday.

Visitation and funeral services for Garafola, 45, are slated for Saturday. He was a 24-year veteran of the sheriff's office.

Services for Jackson, 32, are set for Monday. Jackson had been with the Baton Rouge Police Department for 10 years when he was killed.

All three were fatally shot in what police said was an ambush by Gavin Long, 29, of Kansas City, Missouri. Three other officers were wounded.

Long died in the ensuing gunfight with police.

Ganem, owner of Trey Ganem Designs in Edna, Texas, said employees spent hours researching each fallen officer, speaking to their families and designing the caskets.

Gerald served four years in the Marines and seven years in the Army before continuing to protect his community as a Baton Rouge Police Officer. Fittingly, the casket for the veteran who served three tours in Iraq will be customized to reflect his character.

"Officer Gerald's wife wanted his military background represented as well as his family," Ganem, a former police officer himself, said in a telephone interview Thursday as he drove to Baton Rouge.

"Cpl. Jackson's wife thought of him as Superman," Ganem said. His casket will have a Superman shield, he said.

Garafola's family wanted a collage of family photos inside, Ganem said. He added that Garafola's family plans to have him cremated after the funeral and will also receive a customized burial urn.

Police officers from Texas were escorting the caskets from Edna, located about 90 miles southwest of Houston, to Baton Rouge.

Tensions heightened in Baton Rouge following the death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was fatally shot by white police officers during a scuffle. Video footage of the shooting raised questions about whether Sterling was a threat, setting off angry protests in the city's black community. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.

Jackson, a black police officer, reflected on the atmosphere in the aftermath of Sterling's death.

"I'm tired physically and emotionally," Jackson wrote in a Facebook post. "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 at threat."

Ganem's wife noticed that one of the officers killed Sunday was the Jackson, the author of the online post.

"At that point, I knew I needed to do something for those officers," Ganem said.

Jackson's father-in-law, Lonnie Jordan, called him a "gentle giant" — tall and stout and formidable-looking, but with a peaceful disposition.

Long's motive remains unclear. Long, a black military veteran, had posted rambling internet videos calling for violence in response to what he considered oppression. He also peddled self-published books about empowerment and spiritual enlightenment.

On Thursday, one of the law enforcement officers wounded in the ambush, East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Deputy Bruce Simmons, was discharged from the hospital.

Meghan Parrish, a spokeswoman for Baton Rouge General Medical Center, says about 300 hospital staff members and others lined up to applaud Simmons as he left.

Another deputy, Nicholas Tullier, remains in the hospital. Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden said Tullier was taken off of life-support machines on Tuesday, but that he was still alive.

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Fuller reported from New Orleans