Four days after the police-involved shooting of Alton Sterling turned his city upside down, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Police officer Montrell Jackson issued a plea to the embattled community and vowed to do his part to help it heal.
“These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better,” the 32-year-old officer wrote in a July 8 Facebook post.
And, to all the protesters, officers, friends, family and neighbors in need of a hug or a prayer, he offered a promise: “I got you.”
One week later, on Sunday, Jackson’s life was cut short in a shootout that left three officers dead and three more injured, law enforcement said.
Jackson’s aunt revealed his identity to CNN, simply saying “Today isn’t going too well.”
Sources close to the department identified the other deceased as Officer Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola.
The deadly standoff was the latest blow to a city plagued by tensions in the wake of Sterling’s death. His July 5 death, followed by another police-involved shooting the same week in Minnesota, touched off demonstrations nationwide that have led to arrests and roadway closures.
Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of one of Sterling’s son, Cameron, condemned the shootings.
“We are disgusted by the despicable act of violence today that resulted in the shooting deaths of members of the Baton Rouge law enforcement. My family is heartbroken for the officers and their families. We are praying for them, city leadership and the Baton Rouge community,” she said in a statement.
“We reject violence of any kind directed at members of law enforcement or citizens. My hope is that one day soon we can come together and find solutions to the very important issues facing our nation rather than continuing to hurt one another.”
Jackson, who leaves behind a wife and daughter, had been with the department for 10 years, his uncle Charles Cavalier told CNN affiliate WAFB.
He loved the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans almost as much as he loved his family, his community and his job, Cavalier said.
He was “one of the best guys you’d ever want to know,” Cavalier said.
To those who shared Jackson’s Facebook post after it surfaced on social media, the missive spoke volumes about his character.
It also offered rare, candid insight into the impact of Sterling’s death on officers in the community.
“I’m tired physically and emotionally,” the post starts, “Disappointed in some family, friends, and officers for some reckless comments but hey, what’s in your heart is in your heart. I still love you all because hate it takes too much energy, but I definitely won’t be looking at you the same.”
Kristi Vick Godal, Jackson’s neighbor, told NBC News that Jackson was pained by the events surrounding Sterling’s death, including the protests that followed.
“He loved his city,” Godal said. “It is an absolute tragedy. He was a police officer but he was also a proud black man.”
The married father described the tension between his identity as a police officer and as a black man.
“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,” he wrote.
“I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity you realize they don’t know you at all,” he wrote.
To anyone who doubted his integrity he made one request: “Look at my actions, they speak LOUD and CLEAR.”
Officer Matthew Gerald of Denham Springs leaves behind a wife and two kids, according to WAFB.
He graduated from Baton Rouge Police Academy in March and had just been released to work on his own on July 5, his wife told WAFB.
He was a former Marine and Black Hawk crew chief in the Army who “lived to be a patriot,” his friend Nick Lambert said. The two served together as Black Hawk crew chiefs, he said.
Despite his short stature, his Louisiana drawl and larger than life personality made him stand out in a crowd, Lambert said.
“He was one of the true Americans that lived to be a patriot,” Lambert said.
Deputy Brad Garafola, a married father of four, had been with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office for 24 years, according to WAFB.
He was selected as the Civil Deputy of the Month in January 2013.
His brother Brett Garafola confirmed his death in a Facebook post, according to WAFB.
“Brad, I love you very much my brother. I respect and appreciate everything you did for us, this city, and your job to protect and serve,” he wrote.