Those who loved Brad Garafola – one of three police officers killed by a gunman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over the weekend – are still reeling from Sunday morning’s ambush attack, according to a relative, who tells PEOPLE his wife and four children remain in “a complete state of shock.”
“There’s a big hole now in our family,” Mary Ellen Wells, Garafola’s mother-in-law, tells PEOPLE. “I can’t even express how much pain we are all in.”
Wells says that Garafola, 45, had worked for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff s Office for 24 years. He had four children, ranging in age from 7 to 21.
“He was a great provider for his wife and children,” Wells says. “It’s very surreal. If they’re a police officer, you always have that fear that your husband or your son or your brother won’t come home. Until it happens to you, you can’t really relate.”
At around 9 a.m. on Sunday, police received a call of a “suspicious person” walking down Baton Rouge’s Airline Highway with a gun. The suspect, who’s since been identified as 29-year-old Gavin Long of Kansas City, Missouri, opened fire on police who’d responded to the scene, and was killed in a shootout with police.
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.
The other victims have been identified as Baton Rouge Police Department officers Matthew Gerald, 41, and Montrell L. Jackson, 32.
Garafola was working an extra shift when the bullets starting flying Sunday, says Wells.
“My daughter was to meet him … they were going on vacation today, so they were having something done with her car,” says Wells, explaining that the family was preparing to head off to Florida.
“At 7:48, she texted him and she went to go meet him. He said he would wait for her,” says Wells. “He was in plain clothes but he carries his gun and his vest. When she got there, she couldn’t get through. The streets were all blocked off. She called me, crying. We had to wait to hear about him.”
Wells tells PEOPLE her son-in-law was “a wonderful man” who “had a good spirit” and “a boisterous laugh.” If you needed help and he could give it, he would, she says.
“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. He loved his family. When he was off the job, he was outside in his shed. He built things for his family to enjoy. He couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone who knew him.”
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Garafola was also something of “a kidder,” according to Wells, who called the fallen officer a “rabid” Louisiana State University football fan.
“In our house, there’s a division between Alabama and LSU fans,” Wells explains. “He loved LSU, and his football game parties were notorious.”
Wells claims Garafola was the first officer on the scene to radio into headquarters, asking for backup. The audio released by authorities has been both a blessing and a curse for those the officer left behind.
“We heard that audio and it was extremely hard but comforting at the same time, because we heard his last words,” Wells says. “He was just doing what he loved and he did it well.”