Montrell Jackson’s young son, Mason, turned 4 months old on Monday. It’s a milestone his father – a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officer who died Sunday in what authorities have described as a “targeted” attack on law enforcement – never got to see.
“It’s kind of surreal, it really hasn’t sunken in yet,” Jackson’s uncle Charles Cavalier tells PEOPLE. “You know it’s real, but it seems like it’s a dream in a way.”
Speaking with Jackson’s family, there are a few things you’ll hear over and over again. He was a unifier, a defuser. He loved his city, where he was born and raised. He loved being a police officer.
And he loved being a father.
For more on the Baton Rouge officers fatally shot in what police said was a targeted attack, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
“Having a family was one of his dreams, so he did get to fulfill that dream,” Jessica Milligan-Robinson, Jackson’s younger sister, tells PEOPLE.
“It was one of his greatest accomplishments,” she says.
It was also an accomplishment cut tragically short by a gunman’s bullets.
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‘Such a Sweet Kid’
Authorities said Jackson was among three law enforcement officers (two police and a sheriff’s deputy) killed after responding Sunday to reports of a suspicious person armed with a rifle. Two sheriff’s deputies were also injured in the shooting, and one remains in “very, very critical condition.”
(The suspected gunman, 29-year-old Gavin Eugene Long, was killed at the scene by a SWAT sniper, authorities said.)
That violence was in stark contrast to how Jackson, 32, lived his life. Even with an imposing frame, at 6’3 and 220 pounds, his uncle says Jackson “always tried to defuse a situation.”
“Montrell, he was such a sweet kid,” Cavalier says.
Jackson’s sister agreed, saying, “One of his wishes was that we would stop killing period. That’s the reason he became a cop.
“He wanted to make the streets better and safer for everybody. Not just for his sister or for his cousin, but for everybody.”
‘It’s Just Shock Right Now’
A sports fan – particularly of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans – Jackson also loved to travel, and loved to have his family over to his house for get-togethers, Cavalier says.
“He lived 32 years, but he lived good,” Cavalier says.
Days before his death, Jackson wrote on Facebook about his exhaustion in the wake of two more controversial police shootings of black men.
“In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core,” he wrote in the post, which went viral after his death.
“Please don’t let hate infect your heart,” he wrote. “This city MUST and WILL get better.”
A peacemaker his whole life, Jackson’s death leaves a “major hole” in his family, Milligan-Robinson tells PEOPLE.
His community is reeling, too. On Sunday night, Jackson’s predominantly white neighborhood, where he was the de facto neighborhood president, held a vigil for him, family friend Erika Green tells PEOPLE.
Dozens attended, she says, streaming from their houses out to the gathering. People sang. A preacher spoke.
Green says she’s been in contact with Jackson’s wife of several years, Trenisha: “I think it’s just shock right now.”
“God had other plans for him,” Cavalier says of his nephew. “That’s how I’m trying to look at it, so I can make it through the day.”
• With reporting by CAITLIN KEATING