Family and friends of the three slain officers are speaking out about the men

By Maria Mercedes Lara Char Adams
July 18, 2016 12:30 PM
Source: Facebook

Just days before he was ambushed and killed by a gunman on Sunday, Baton Rouge Officer Montrell L. Jackson shared an emotional post about the stress of being a black cop amid the police-involved shootings that gripped his community and the nation.

“I’m tired physically and emotionally,” Jackson, who just become a father weeks before, reportedly wrote on Facebook on July 8. “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. I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core.”

“This city MUST and WILL get better,” he continued. “I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you.”

The 32-year-old, 10-year police veteran was one of three officers fatally shot by a gunman with an assault rifle as they responded to reports of an armed man. Three other officers were wounded – one critically. Officers killed the assailant in the ensuing gun battle.

Also killed were East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, 45, and Baton Rouge Police Department Officer Matthew Gerald, 41.

Jackson took to social media on the same day that five officers in Dallas were killed in a sniper attack during a Black Lives Matter protest. The protest was in response to the highly publicized police shootings of black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge on July 5 – sparking massive clashes with police in the Louisiana city and demonstrations across the country.

Jackson was married and had recently welcomed a son, according to the New York Times. His Facebook account is filled with photos of his little boy. When asked how he was adapting to fatherhood, Jackson replied, “NO SLEEP! LOL I wouldn’t trade him for the world thought.”

Jackson sister, Jessica Milligan-Robinson, tells PEOPLE that her older brother was a “gentle” man who “loved people.”

“That’s why he was in the line of work that he was in. He was so genuine. It’s something you really don’t find in too many people. It was real. He has been like that since he was born,” she says.

“He never raised his voice or anything like that. Most of all he believed in equality. He took his job very seriously and protected everybody … To know him was to love him. When we lost him yesterday, you felt that loss.”

Who They Were: Stories of the Fallen Officers

Garafola was a married father of four, according to his mother-in-law, Mary Ellen Wells.

“He did anything and everything for people,” Wells tells PEOPLE. “He didn’t know the word ‘No.’ If you asked him for help, he helped. His heart was huge.”

Garafola leaves behind a 21-year-old son, a 15-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter.

According to Wells, Garafola was the first officer to get on his radio to report Sunday’s shooting.

“The audio that first came out from the shooting…that was Brad,” Wells explains. “We heard that and it was extremely hard but comforting at the same time, because we heard his last words. He was just doing what he loved. We’re all in so much pain. You always have that fear that your husband or your son or your brother won’t come home. This is the worst fear.”

Gerald was a rookie police officer who had graduated from the police academy in March, says Skye Turner, a friend of Gerald’s wife.

He was a Marine and former Black Hawk crew chief in the U.S. Army. He was married with two children.

A GoFundMe page has been set up in his honor to help his family.

“He was the kind of person who always wanted to do for others,” Turner tells PEOPLE. “If he could help someone, he would.”

Gerald was a diehard Louisiana State University college football fan who loved a good laugh, Turner says.

“He was a jokester,” Turner starts. “He was very funny. Just the guy next door that everyone wanted to be friend’s with. He had an amazing smile. He was laid-back. Just a typical Louisiana guy. He was always in a good mood and in good spirits.”

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