On July 17, 2021, law enforcement leaders reflected on one of the darkest days in their lifetimes – the day when a lone gunman shot and killed three officers and injured three others in Baton Rouge five years earlier to the day.
Two officers from the Baton Rouge Police Department, Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson, along with East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola, died that day after the gunman opened fire on a gas station and subsequently ambushed the officers.
Since then, Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome declared the anniversary Law Enforcement Memorial Day.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux told WAFB 9 that a day doesn’t go by when he thinks about the officers who lost their lives that day.
“You know I’ve been in law enforcement a long time and it’s terrible to lose anybody at any time but I can tell you that was the worst day of my life and I will never forget what took place that day,” Gautreaux said.
The Sheriff said that he was comforted by the outpouring of love and concern from the community and was able to move forward.
“This community was hurting at this time but I saw something that I mean it moves me to today,” said Gautreaux. “I saw this entire community come together then when that happened. It was such an outpouring of love and concern from all of the community and that touched me and it always will and I think we’ve built upon that since then.”
BRPD Chief Murphy Paul, who was working with Louisiana State Police at the time – later took over as Baton Rouge Police Department Chief a year after the incident, and said the shooting had a strong impact on him at the time.
“When you look at 2016 and you look at all of the incidents that happened like our heroes losing their lives and paying the ultimate sacrifice..,the great flood…all of those things created trauma not only in the community but in our police officers. We know that trauma still exists,” said Chief Paul.
Since taking over, Paul said the department has made a lot of improvements to protect officers, including repairing fraught relationships with the community, providing better training, as well as offering a support system with peer-to-peer counseling services to heal some of the trauma that officers face on the job.
“We wanted to create an environment where our officers feel safe to say I need a break and to feel safe to say I need help and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” said Paul.
Members of the National Police Wives Association also gathered at the gas station that was the scene of the ambush to pay respect for the fallen heroes.
Christina, the wife of a Los Angeles police officer, said: “We all have our own trauma, but coming together you see that no matter what part of the country we’re from, officers and wives are going through the same thing. It’s a beautiful thing to get together, support each other and just come out stronger.”
Widow of Officer Matthew Gerald, Dechia Gerald, was also present, and remembered the shock and pain of that day.
“Obviously, you know I was shocked because everything is fine. You wake up that morning, your husband goes to work, kisses you bye, tells you he loves you … you know the whole nine yards. Then all of a sudden, you wake up and you see all of those breaking news, and your life completely changes in a second,” she said.
Gerald says that she is surrounded by those who love and support for her husband and those involved in the shooting.