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Thanksgiving was a trying time for the relatives of fallen Baton Rouge policeman Montrell L. Jackson — one of the three officers killed on July 17

By Chris Harris
December 21, 2016 04:48 PM
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Montrell Jackson
Credit: PA/BATON ROUGE POLICE DEPARTMENT

The last few months have been difficult for the relatives of fallen Baton Rouge police officer Montrell L. Jackson — one of the three officers killed on July 17 when a lone gunman with an assault rifle opened fire in a ambush shooting that wounded three other officers.

But the veteran cop’s uncle, Charles Cavalier, tells PEOPLE that Christmas may end up being “the hardest thing we have ever had to deal with as a family.”

That’s because Jackson would have turned 33 on Dec. 23, says Cavalier.

“This is gonna be one of the hardest times for us, because, of course, this will be our first Christmas without him,” Cavalier starts. “But his birthday is coming up, too. For the last 30 years or so, we’ve celebrated his birthday and Christmas together, since they were both just two days apart. We’d all go out and get dinner, have some laughs … it is going to be tough, but we are hanging in.”

Jackson was gunned down along with East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, who was 45, and 41-year-old Baton Rouge Police Department Officer Matthew Gerald. Police killed the assailant after a brief exchange of gunfire.

The three officers were ambushed as they responded to reports of an armed man who had been seen walking down a Baton Rouge street. The ambush followed several police-involved shootings, which sparked protests all across the nation.

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Days before his death, and on the day five officers in Dallas were killed in a sniper attack, Jackson took to Facebook, sharing an emotional post about the stress he was feeling as a black officer and the trepidation he faced from the community he served so faithfully.

“I’m tired physically and emotionally,” Jackson, who had just become a father weeks before, 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.”

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Montrell Jackson
| Credit: Source: Facebook

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Jackson was married and had recently welcomed a son, who Cavalier says turned 9 months old on Dec. 17. Already, the child is exhibiting Jackson’s characteristics.

“I’ve just been watching him grow and I can see Montrell in him,” Cavalier tells PEOPLE. “He’s pretty much going to be a spitting image of his father. He has all the same features Montrell had as a baby.”

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Montrell Jackson
| Credit: Courtesy of Trenisha Jackson/AP

Life goes on for those Jackson left behind, Cavalier says: “It feels like it was just yesterday we lost him. We are living, you know? You have to go on. You can’t give up. It’s hard for us, but God had a better plan for Montrell.”

Cavalier, recalling the family’s last gathering for the Fourth of July, says his nephew was the kind of person “everyone would get excited about if they knew he was going to be somewhere.”

As their first Christmas without Montrell approaches, Cavalier says there’s a “bittersweet feeling” among his family members.

“You never really recover … I know I never will,” Cavalier says. “You just continue. You try to do the best you can and you do whatever you can to keep his legacy alive. That is something I will do for as long as I live, because he was just such a special kid.

“Montrell had his head on his shoulders. He was strong and smart. He just wanted to be a police officer. The way he died … I just can’t comprehend it. It was so senseless.”