Wives of fallen officers speak at memorial attended by VP Biden, AG Lynch

Published: Jul. 25, 2016 at 7:01 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2017 at 1:01 AM CDT
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Officer Montrell Jackson, Deputy Brad Garafola and Officer Matthew Gerald
Officer Montrell Jackson, Deputy Brad Garafola and Officer Matthew Gerald

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Eleven days have passed since six law enforcement officers were shot during an ambush shooting. At the heart of nearly two weeks of a community working to cope with tremendous loss are messages of healing, hope and peace.

RELATED: Community events planned in the wake of officer shooting in Baton Rouge

"We saw evil that day and we responded with good," said Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie. "He meant hate for us, but he did not win. We are Baton Rouge strong."

A memorial service was held at Healing Place Church for the law enforcement officers who were shot during the ambush attack. The top officials in Louisiana government and law enforcement were joined by the top officials for the nation, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

"We are here as one community to share our love for these fallen heroes," said Lynch. "Joined by this collective heartache, we are joined by our common humanity."

Click here to read the full speech that Lynch delivered at the memorial service.

Biden spoke to the families of the fallen officers and recalled his personal experience with loss and tragedy.

"Memorials are for the living, for all of you, the fact of the matter is that unfortunately Jill and I know through personal experience what you're going through," he said. "I didn't know them, but I know them. They're the guys who grew up in my neighborhood. The guy who when you got in a fight he would always have your back. You knew him. He was the boy with the most courage and the most compassion. The man with the brave heart and the generous soul, whose words are always encouraged. The son who always made you smile just looking at you. The father who you knew would always be there just by the way he touched you. The husband with the gentle touch who could sooth away your fear without even knowing.

"I don't know you, but boy I do know you. I know who you are. You're the best," Biden continued. "You're the best this country has to offer. Being a cop isn't just what you do, it's who you are, it's stamped in your DNA and thank god for the rest of us."

As the healing process continues, however, state leaders looked to the future. The governor indicated that the community needed ensure that the three officers did not die in vain by making sure their legacy was one of unity in the community.

"We cannot let this tragedy define us, but it can direct us as we move forward," said Gov. John Bel Edwards. "It can push us to do better. We have to uproot hate and violence and replace it with peace and love."

RELATED: Law enforcement officer ambush: A comprehensive timeline of events

The wives of the slain officers concluded the program. First to speak was Tonja Garafola, wife of East Baton Rouge Parish Deputy Brad Garafola, 45.

"I was initial told he was okay. I waited for a return phone call that was never received. On my way home I felt in my heart that something was not right. I began to feel more distant from my husband. My mind would not allow me to wrap my thoughts around what my heart was already telling me," said Garafola.

Deputy Garafola was working an extra-duty detail at the B-Quik when gunman Gavin Long began shooting.

"About an hour later I received a call that I will never forget, telling me that Brad was shot and to head to the hospital," Garafola continued. "I was not even allowed to see him at the hospital. I had to go home and tell my kids that our hero was not coming home. Since then our children has slept in our bed so they could smell him."

Tonja would later learn that her husband was shot when he was attempting to help Officer Matthew Gerald, 41, with the Baton Rouge Police Department. Officer Gerald served honorably in the U.S. Marines for four years and achieved the rank of corporal.

He then joined the Army as a specialist and worked with Blackhawk helicopters. In his time of service, he did three tours in Iraq and earned numerous awards, including four air medals, three good conduct medals, and many others.

"The only thing stronger for the red white and blue was his love for us," said Dechia Gerald. "My warrior fought hard for us both. I have some big shoes to fill and to be honest I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fill those shoes."

Officer Gerald graduated from the Baton Rouge Police Department academy in May.

"I remember when he was going through the academy and he wanted to give up, but I kept encouraging him," said Trenisha Jackson, wife of Officer Montrell Jackson, about her husband. "My husband was a rare diamond, not even a billionaire could afford him. I can talk forever and ever about my amazing husband."

Cpl. Montrell Jackson, 32, was a new father. His 4-month-old child, Mason, will never know his father, but his final post on social media has become part of his legacy and was Jackson's closing remark. She asked everyone to stand and repeat, "I will not let hate infect my heart."

Also honored during the service were the three officers who were wounded during the attack.

Deputy Nicholas Tullier, 41, remains in critical condition at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. He has 18 years of service with the sheriff's office.

Bruce Simmons, 57, was released from Baton Rouge General Hospital on July 21 after undergoing at least two surgeries. Simmons has served as a police officer for 23 years.

Chad Montgomery, a Baton Rouge police officer, was also released from the hospital.

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