BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A written tribute from the wife of Baton Rouge Police Officer Matthew Gerald was handed out Friday before his funeral, expressing hope that his memory will “bridge the gap and foster peace in the country he lived, loved and died for.”
“My blue-eyed rock was a hero,” wrote Dechia Gerald, now a widow with two young girls. “The only thing stronger than his love for the red, white and blue was his love for us.”
Among the hundreds of mourners were Sheriff’s Capt. Tom Cox from Knox County, Tennessee, who said he had just traveled to Dallas to attend all five funerals for the officers killed by a sniper there.
“It’s numbing, with this many in such a short period of time” Cox said. “We hope this isn’t some trend.”
Gerald, a military veteran, was one of three officers killed by a lone gunman in Baton Rouge on July 17. Funerals for sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola and police officer Montrell Jackson are set for Saturday and Monday.
They were slain by another military veteran, a black man whose rambling internet videos urged violent responses to what he considered oppression. After killing three officers and wounding three more, Gavin Long was killed with a long-distance shot by a SWAT team officer.
Police leaders said Long’s ambush was at odds with how little violence there had been in Baton Rouge, despite days of heightened racial tension following the police shooting of Alton Sterling, a black man whose death was recorded and posted online.
The two officers involved in Sterling’s death were put on administrative leave and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating, but thousands protested in Louisiana’s capital nonetheless, demanding systemic changes to end what they feel are unjustified police shootings of black men.
Gerald joined the Baton Rouge Police Department less than a year ago, an enthusiastic rookie at age 41, after serving four years in the Marines and seven years in the Army, including three tours in Iraq.
His partner on the force was Cpl. Lester Mitchell, an 11-year police veteran. The two officers, black and white, began riding together on July 1, days before Sterling’s death.
“We talked about the madness, how much it was putting a strain on the community, police relations,” Mitchell said Friday. Gerald, he said, “was a protector. It was just in his DNA.”
On the day of the attack, the partners had been writing reports at police headquarters when Gerald said he was feeling tired, and was going for an energy drink at the B-Quick convenience store a few blocks away.
Someone at the store approached Gerald, saying an armed man was walking through the area, Mitchell said. Gerald radioed back to dispatch, and Mitchell and other officers raced to the scene, hearing gunfire as they arrived.
“We were right in the middle of the firestorm,” he said. “He had already been shot when we got there.”
Associated Press writer Bill Fuller in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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