Four days after the police-involved shooting of Alton Sterling turned his city upside down, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Police officer Montrell Jackson issued a plea to the embattled community and vowed to do his part to help it heal.
“These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better,” the 32-year-old officer wrote in a July 8 Facebook post.
And, to all the protesters, officers, friends, family and neighbors in need of a hug or a prayer in Baton Rouge, he offered a promise: “I got you.”
One week later, on Sunday, Jackson’s life was cut short in a shootout that left three officers dead and three more injured, law enforcement said.
Jackson’s aunt revealed his identity to CNN, simply saying “Today isn’t going too well.”
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s office identified the other deceased as Officer Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola. Of the other officers involved in the shooting, Nicholas Tullier of the Uniform Patrol Traffic division was shot and is in critical condition. Bruce Simmons, who also worked in the traffic division, sustained non-life threatening injuries, the Sheriff’s office reported.
The deadly standoff was the latest blow to a city plagued by tensions in the wake of Sterling’s death. His July 5 death, followed by another police-involved shooting the same week in Minnesota, touched off demonstrations nationwide that have led to arrests and roadway closures.
‘No place for more violence’
As Baton Rouge reels from the events that sent tremors throughout their community, city officials expressed their condolences, and made a call for peace.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday. “Obviously our community is hurting, and only through peace can we heal, and that’s going to take meaningful dialogue. There simply is no place for more violence.”
“We are going to get through this and we are going to get through this together,” Baton Rouge Chief of Police Carl Dabadie said at the same press conference. “This is not going to tarnish this city or this department. We are going to move forward.”
Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of one of Sterling’s son, Cameron, condemned the shootings.
“We reject violence of any kind directed at members of law enforcement or citizens.” she said in a statement. “My hope is that one day soon we can come together and find solutions to the very important issues facing our nation rather than continuing to hurt one another.”
Jackson, who leaves behind a wife and four-month old son, had been with the department for 10 years, his uncle Charles Cavalier told CNN affiliate WAFB.
“He just had his first born son, he always wanted to become a father” Jackson’s brother, Kedrick Pitts, told NPR. It devastated him that his nephew will never get the chance to know the great man his father was, Pitts said.
He loved the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans almost as much as he loved his family, his community and his job, Cavalier said.
He was “one of the best guys you’d ever want to know,” Cavalier said.
To those who shared Jackson’s Facebook post after it surfaced on social media, the missive spoke volumes about his character.
It also offered rare, candid insight into the impact of Sterling’s death on officers in the community.
“I’m tired physically and emotionally,” the post starts, “Disappointed in some family, friends, and officers for some reckless comments but hey, what’s in your heart is in your heart. I still love you all because hate it takes too much energy, but I definitely won’t be looking at you the same.”
Kristi Vick Godal, Jackson’s neighbor, told NBC News that Jackson was pained by the events surrounding Sterling’s death, including the protests that followed.
“He loved his city,” Godal said. “It is an absolute tragedy. He was a police officer but he was also a proud black man.”
What Jackson wanted most was for “everyone to respect everyone,” his brother said. He wanted justice for Sterling’s family, but peace amongst all.
“I believe he would want this world to be a better place, to put an end to all this madness and come together,” Pitts said.
The married father described the tension between his identity as a police officer and as a black man.
“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 a threat,” he wrote.
“I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity you realize they don’t know you at all,” he wrote.
To anyone who doubted his integrity he made one request: “Look at my actions, they speak LOUD and CLEAR.”
Officer Matthew Gerald of Denham Springs leaves behind a wife and two kids, according to WAFB.
He graduated from Baton Rouge Police Academy in March and had just been released to work on his own on July 5, his wife told WAFB.
He was a former Marine and Black Hawk crew chief in the Army who “lived to be a patriot,” his friend Nick Lambert said. The two served together as Black Hawk crew chiefs, he said.
Despite his short stature, his Louisiana drawl and larger than life personality made him stand out in a crowd, Lambert said.
“He was one of the true Americans that lived to be a patriot,” Lambert said.
After serving in both the Marines and the Army, and after three tours to Iraq, Gerald wasn’t ready to call it quits, his friend and fellow police officer Ryan Cabral, who lives in Texas, told CNN.
“Instead of slowing down at 40 years old, he said ‘hell no, give me more,'” Cabral said. “Matt was born to protect those who needed protection,” he said.
Less than a week prior to the fatal shootout, the two police officers spoke on the phone. They discussed the tumultuous climate in Baton Rouge, said their goodbyes, and “told each other to be safe,” Cabral told CNN.
Deputy Brad Garafola, a married father of four, had been with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office for 24 years, according to WAFB.
He was selected as the Civil Deputy of the Month in January 2013.
His brother Brett Garafola confirmed his death in a Facebook post, according to WAFB.
“Brad, I love you very much my brother. I respect and appreciate everything you did for us, this city, and your job to protect and serve,” he wrote.
CNN’s Justin Lear and Farida Fawzy contributed to this story.
By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN