BATON ROUGE, La. — Wearing shirts adorned with their fallen sons’ names, Emily Garafola and Tish Gerald shared with family, friends and strangers gathered Monday at Baton Rouge Police headquarters the anniversary of one of their most painful days.
“I would like to say thank you to all of you: The kindness, the love, the support from everyone has just been amazing, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, for everything,” Emily Garafola, the mother of slain East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola, said to the crowd of almost 100. “We miss our son so much; my grandkids, his brothers, family and friends. Thank y’all, God bless you.”
Garafola and Gerald spoke at a ceremony honoring the officers killed and injured in an ambush on law enforcement a year ago. On July 17, 2016, an ambush by an out-of-town lone gunman killed Baton Rouge police officers Montrell Jackson and Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola. Three other officers were injured in the attack, including Deputy Nick Tullier, who was critically wounded and remains in rehabilitation in Houston.
Tish Gerald spoke of her son and Jackson, a duo she now refers to as “M&M.”
“If I had — and I did — to give him up, I’d proudly give him up to protect people,” Gerald said, tearfully. “Every policeman, fireman, EMS, you’re in our hearts and prayers, and you’ll be remembered.”
Residents holding balloons to soon be released echoed the mothers’ sentiments, some shouting “amen” and others embracing each other. Among them was 7-year-old Rosalyn Baldwin, who came from Hammond to hug law enforcement officers, part of her mission to hug an officer in every state, inspired partly by the deaths of the officers in Baton Rouge.
“This isn’t something that law enforcement got together to do, this is something that the community has gotten together to do,” Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said before the balloon release. “This past year we as a community, law enforcement, and you as a community, the citizens — we’ve experienced a serious amount of pain, all of us together. I have never seen — this last year and what I see today — the love, the generosity, the caring that this community has.”
A few Baton Rouge residents planned the ceremony, spreading the word on Facebook and concluding the event with the release of hundreds of balloons, most black or blue and some shaped like stars.
“We wanted to do something to honor the fallen officers and their heroic efforts to keep the citizens of Baton Rouge safe,” said Mackenzie Shaw, who helped organize the gathering.
“It’s been a long day for us, a lot of emotion, but having this this afternoon and showing your support, we can’t tell you how much that means to us,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, told those at the gathering. “From the bottoms of our hearts, and from all the officers on the Baton Rouge Police Department, especially Matt and Montrell, (thank you).”
Former Mayor-President Kip Holden joined Dabadie and Gautreaux at the ceremony, asking people to see beyond the uniform.
City-parish buildings flew flags at half-staff Monday in memory of the officers.
“We are reminded of the ultimate sacrifice many of our uniformed officers all too often pay when serving our communities,” Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said in a statement released Monday.
“I ask that we continue to honor those lives lost serving and protecting us by coming together as a city and moving forward in solidarity,” Broome wrote.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com