BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A year has come and gone, but the memory remains fresh in the minds of many.
On July 17, 2016, two Baton Rouge police officers and an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy were killed in an ambush shooting. Three additional law enforcement officers were wounded and have struggled to recover.
The shooting happened less than a mile from the Baton Rouge Police Headquarters.
There will be a special community event to remember them in the form of a blue and black balloon release. It will be held in the courtyard of BRPD headquarters on Airline Highway starting at 6 p.m. The balloons are scheduled to be released at 6:30 p.m.
Mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome issued a statement on the anniversary of the deadly ambush.
Broome also ordered all flags on city-parish grounds to be flown at half-staff on July 17, 2017 in honor of the officers.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office also released a tribute video for the fallen officers through its YouTube channel.
All of the slain law enforcement officers were at or near the B-Quik when the gunman opened fire.
Deputy Brad Garafola, 45, was working an extra duty detail at the B-Quik the day of the shooting. He had been with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office for 24 years. He was assigned to the Civil Processing-Foreclosures division.
In the days following his death, Tonja Garafola, his wife, spoke about the tragedy. She said he texted her the day of the attack.
"Good morning my love," the text read. "I love you."
An hour later, Deputy Garafola was fighting for his life.
"And he went and hid behind a dumpster so he could call for backup and he saw another officer [Officer Gerald] had been hit and was trying to crawl and he crawled back to him and in the process, he was shot and that he went down fighting and he returned gunfire the entire time, several times after he was hit. He kept shooting, even when he was on the ground on his back, he kept shooting," Tonja explained.
On Thursday, March 2, 2017, a special balloon release ceremony was held to mark what would have been Deputy Garafola's birthday.
Officer Matthew Gerald, 41, had only just begun his career with the Baton Rouge Police Department. He graduated from the Police Academy in March 2016 and had only just been released to work on his own on July 5, 2016. He was at the store to purchase a drink.
Gerald lived in Denham Springs. He was a former Marine and Black Hawk Crew Chief in the US Army. He achieved the rank of corporal and served from October 11, 1994 to October 10, 1998. During his service, he received the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
"He showed true valor. He laid his life down to protect his community and country," said Justin Badeaux, Gerald's brother-in-law. "He felt his country was worth so much more than his life."
Gerald's wife, Dechia Gerald, learned shortly after his death that she was pregnant. Falyn Matthew Gerald was born at 4:31 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21. Gerald's funeral service was held on Friday, July 23, 2016.
Dechia has worn her husband's wedding ring as a necklace ever since the attack. When she held her baby for the first time, he held tight to that ring.
"It was very overwhelming... very emotional. Every emotion you could imagine comes at one time, all at once, but it's very exciting," said Dechia.
Officer Montrell Jackson, 32, was at the car wash located next to the gas station. He had just finished cleaning his vehicle when the gunman arrived.
Jackson had worked for the Baton Rouge Police Department for 10 years. His funeral service was held Monday, July 25, 2016.
In the last weeks of his life, Cpl. Jackson found himself in the thick of things as Baton Rouge unraveled. A prophetic Facebook post has become his lasting legacy and was referenced during the service by Governor John Bel Edwards and several other speakers.
"These are trying times. Please don't let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better," the post read. "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."
Many who filled the streets to watch the procession were holding signs in honor of that final message. The signs read, "Need a hug? I got you."
"I want you to know that in the weeks to come, when the cameras stop flashing, we got you," Cpl. Taylor said to Jackson's widow, Trenisha Jackson, during the funeral.
His child was only 4-months-old when he died.
Of the injured officers, Deputy Nicholas Tullier, who has been a law enforcement officer with East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office for 18 years, suffered the most critical of injuries. When he was first transported to the hospital, he was not expected to survive.
"He said he saw angels, said he saw God. We joked at one time Nick coded four times in the ER and during surgery, apparently, he was arguing with God. God told him, 'Get back, I'm not ready for you,'" said James Tullier, Nick's father.
One hundred and twenty-two days after being brought to OLOL, Nick was moved from the hospital. A police motorcade led the way, with some of his fellow brothers standing at attention along the route. Nick was moved to Houston to the TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehab Facility, where he remains today.
The doctor says Nick has much better control of his head now as well. Plus, Nick is able to completely control a power wheelchair by moving his head.
In the past month, Dr. Kothari says Nick has regained some movement in his left arm and left leg.
As for the exit wound in his lower back, it has been slow to heal, but a surgery performed on Wednesday, July 12 may have improved that.
Doctors are also seeing more activity around his mouth. Just a few weeks ago, he said the word, "hello." He's going through music therapy where his therapists and his fiancée, Danielle, work to help improve his speech.
"Thank you, because the power of prayer worked. The power of prayer works. It's an awesome force. It's stronger than anything else, stronger than any weapon on the face of this Earth. We have proof. We have a son who shouldn't have survived. He's here," said James.
Doctors say no one recovers fully from a brain injury like Nick's, but also say his short-term recovery is looking promising. Another major factor in his recovery is he is never alone. Between his fiancée and parents, someone is always with him, making sure they're pushing, motivating, and even keeping Nick smiling.
Sgt. Bruce Simmons was released from Baton Rouge General Hospital four days after undergoing at least two surgeries for his injury to his shoulder. On the day of his release from the hospital, he returned to his home in Central to a warm welcome of around 100 friends, family, and local business owners.
To his surprise, Sgt Simmons' infinity cross tattoo, located where he was wounded, is still intact.
As of March 2017, Sgt. Simmons was still working with a physical therapist.
"Unfortunately with the type of work we do, we put our lives on the line," Simmons said. "I haven't retired yet. When you are a public servant, you are always a public servant."
Simmons has been a police officer for 23 years.
Cpl. Chad Montgomery with the Baton Rouge Police Department was grazed by a bullet. He said he went back to work immediately after the shooting.
"It's still emotional, but I wouldn't have it any other way," said Cpl. Chad Montgomery. "It's what I've been doing all my life and that's what I'm going to continue to do."
Some close family members of the law enforcement officers killed and wounded in the ambush shooting took to social media on the anniversary of the tragedy.
The initial call came in at roughly 8:40 a.m. on Sunday. The entire incident only lasted 13 minutes and 55 seconds.
After months of investigating, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III held a press conference to release all of the evidence that was collected.
An investigation is required any time deadly force is used.
"There was no doubt here regarding their justifications," Moore said. "These officers went into a very dangerous and unknown situation and saved lives."
Witnesses called 911 to report a man holding a rifle, wearing all black, was standing behind a beauty supply store on Airline Highway. The scene later shifted to the nearby B-Quik gas station, which is located less than a mile from BRPD Headquarters.
The gunman, Gavin Long, shot and killed Cpl. Jackson, Deputy Garafola, and Officer Gerald. By that point, additional manpower arrived, but Long's location was unknown.
During a call to dispatch, an officer said, "unknown where the shots are coming from."
A witness described hearing at least 25 to 30 gunshots when the shooting began.
Both agencies responded and Long managed to shoot the three additional law enforcement officers before the Special Response Team located and shot him.
The SRT located Long right after Deputy Tullier and Deputy Simmons were shot.
Investigators recovered three guns. They included an IWI Tavor SAR, 5.56 caliber rifle, Springfield XD 9, 9mm caliber pistol, and Stag Arms M4 Variant, 5.56 caliber rifle was staged at the vehicle. The vehicle was a Chevy Malibu that was rented from Missouri. It was recovered at the scene.
On the day of the attack, Sunday, July 17, officials announced they shot and killed the suspect, who was later identified as Gavin Long, 29, from Missouri.
Dr. Boyce Watkins of the Black Business School received an email from Long on Monday, July 11 at 10:31 p.m., just one day before the Louisiana State Police says Long rented the car he drove from Kansas City, Missouri to Baton Rouge. In the letter he spoke specifically about the Alton Sterling investigation.
The VA confirmed that Long was a veteran who served in the Marines and said he sought medical attention over the course of several years after he was deployed overseas.
Long stayed in a Baton Rouge motel and made copies of a three-page letter before he checked out.
"When you read the three-page letter, you certainly understand his motive. You understand that he was ready to die. It was his birthday."
Long's body was released to his family on Monday, July 25, 2016.
RELATIONSHIP TO ALTON STERLING:
Alton Sterling died Tuesday, July 5 after he was shot by a Baton Rouge police officer outside the Triple S Food Mart. Police were initially called to the store from a complaint that a man with a gun was outside the store selling CDs and had threatened someone.
Cell phone video was released that showed Sterling on the ground when he was shot multiple times. Police say he reached for a gun and the officer felt threatened. The FBI is charged with investigating the case.
Protests were held throughout Baton Rouge the weekend following his death and continued on a smaller scale the following week.
Sterling's funeral was held Friday, July 15 at Southern University.
Law enforcement were on high alert, but the family of Alton Sterling asked for protesters to cease activity on the weekend of his funeral.
An investigation revealed that Long never participated in the Baton Rouge protests.