Hundreds gather at vigil for slain Baton Rouge officers
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Hundreds of people gathered at a Baton Rouge church Thursday for a vigil honoring three law enforcement officers who were killed during a shootout with a lone gunman outside a convenience store.
Authorities say the gunman was targeting police officers in the July 17 shooting. The ambush happened during a period of racial tension in the city, following the death of a black man in a struggle with white police officers.
Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to speak at the vigil, which residents hope will help Baton Rouge heal.
Rosie Hernandez, whose nephew who is a Baton Rouge police officer, and her husband found seats Thursday inside the church where the vigil is being held. The 62-year-old said she is confident that the ceremony will help unite a community that has been grappling with racial tensions.
"Out of this tragedy, the hope is that we will become a closer community," she said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and relatives of the slain officers also are expected to speak Thursday during the ceremony at Healing Place Church, where a funeral was held last Friday for Baton Rouge Police Officer Matthew Gerald, 41.
Gerald, Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola, 45, and Police Officer Montrell Jackson, 32, were shot and killed by Gavin Long, an Army veteran from Kansas City, Missouri.
Long, 29, also wounded three other officers before a SWAT officer gunned him down.
Sheriff's Deputy Nicholas Tullier was critically wounded and has remained in a hospital since the shooting.
Authorities said Long was targeting police when he ambushed the officers in Baton Rouge, where racial tensions had been mounting amid protests over a deadly police shooting. Alton Sterling, 37, a black man, was shot and killed during a struggle with two white police officers July 5. The killing was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the internet.
Jackson, a corporal, was a 10-year veteran of the Baton Rouge Police Department. He was married and had a 4-month-old son. Days before he was shot to death, Jackson posted a message on Facebook about the difficulties of being both a black man and a police officer in the tumultuous aftermath of Sterling's shooting.
"Please don't let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better," wrote Jackson, whose funeral was Monday.
Garafola, whose funeral was Saturday, is survived by a wife and four children: sons ages 21 and 12, and daughters ages 15 and 7.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Garafola "went down fighting," with surveillance video showing him firing at the gunman as bullets hit the concrete around him.
Gerald was a former Marine and Army veteran who served three tours in Iraq before joining the police force nine months ago. His wife, Dechia Gerald -- now a widow with two young daughters -- called him "my blue-eyed rock" in a written tribute. She expressed hope that his legacy will "bridge the gap and foster peace in the country he lived, loved and died for."
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