Monday, November 28, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Slain Baton Rouge Police Leave Five Children

BATON ROUGE (CN) — Nine days before he was murdered, Baton Rouge police Officer Montrell Jackson posted on Facebook that he was "tired physically and emotionally" from the aftermath of the police killing of Alton Sterling. "I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me," wrote Jackson, 32, the only black officer who was killed.

Jackson, whose wife had had a son in March, was one of three Baton Rouge officers killed by a Marine veteran Sunday morning. Three other officers were wounded; one is in critical condition.

"In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat," Jackson wrote in his July 8 Facebook post.

"I personally want to send prayers out to everyone directly affected by this tragedy. These are trying times. Please don't let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I'm working in the streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer. I got you."

The six officers were shot Sunday as they investigated reports of a man walking along Airline Highway carrying an assault rifle.

Coming less than two weeks after Alton Sterling was shot to death by Baton Rouge police, and 10 days after five Dallas police officers were killed protecting a rally held in response to Sterling's death, the new killing set on edge a nation already jittery from repeated violence.

Killed in Baton Rouge were Officers Jackson, Matthew Gerald, 41, and East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Officer Brad Garafola, 45, a father of four.

One wounded officer was in critical condition Sunday evening after surgery at Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center. The other two officers' wounds were not life-threatening, officials said.

Gavin Eugene Long, 29, of Kansas City, Mo., was killed by police after he shot the six officers.

The Kansas City Star reported that Long appears to have been aligned with a "sovereign citizen" ideology, whose followers believe the government is corrupt and out of control and has no jurisdiction over them.

The ideology has its roots in racist and anti-Semitic beliefs, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which says many people who hold "the truly bizarre, complex antigovernment beliefs" are black, as was Long, and unaware of the movement's racist origins.

Long kept an online persona as Cosmo Setepenra and ran the website, on which he marketed himself as a life coach, publishing blogs, podcasts and videos in which he spoke of his beliefs and discussed topics in the news, including spirituality and self-actualization.

In recent months, Long had begun to express outrage over police shootings, according to the Star.

As Setepenra he tweeted about racism, including the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling on July 5 and the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas on July 7.

Long served in Iraq with the U.S. Marines. He was a Marine from 2005 until 2010 and worked as a data network specialist, according to The Associated Press. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant after serving in Iraq from June 2008 until January 2009, and received several medals, including one for good conduct.

A Kansas City Star reporter wrote that a man carrying a gun answered the door Sunday at a house in Kansas City where Long had most recently lived.

The police shootings Sunday came four days after Alton Sterling's 15-year-old son, Cameron Sterling, told President Barack Obama he wanted peace, and asked the president to unite the races of the world during a town hall meeting on race relations: "The President and the People: A National Conversation."

Cameron Sterling, who could be heard weeping in the background at a news conference the day after his father was killed, and who appeared inconsolable at a news event a week later, asked the president at the town hall to keep families safe.

"I've come to ask one question," Cameron said. "I ask that you keep all these families and my family safe and the people and the rest of the good police officers safe from bad people and bad police officers. And I ask for your help to unite all the races of this world."

Cameron Sterling has been praised for his compassion and for how well he is handling the grief of his father's death.

Alton Sterling, 37, was buried Friday in Baton Rouge. Hundreds attended his morning funeral in torrential rain, including staff members of Governor John Bel Edwards, who was out of town for the National Governors' Conference.

The tone was muted during the funeral service, but political messages remained from protests the week before. A large poster board plastered with the faces of recent police shooting victims was visible in the stadium at Southern University where the service took place, under the title: "Stop Murder by Police."

Gary Chambers, who led the memorial, stressed that protesting was not allowed at the service.

"The family has asked for today to be a day of peace and celebration," Chambers said, and the crowd broke into applause.

The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton spoke, as did Abdullah Muflahi, owner of the Triple S Food Mart where Sterling was shot. Muflahi filmed one of the two videos that surfaced showing that Sterling was restrained on the ground and not holding a gun when he was shot six times by police.

Muflahi said Sterling was his friend and one of the first people he met when he moved to Baton Rouge. He said that for the longest time he knew Sterling only by the name "Big Boy," and that he would miss him.

"He showed me a lot of love," Muflahi said. "He looked out for me. ... He was truly the meaning of 'Southern hospitality.'"

The rain stopped during the service and the sun reappeared. Mourners then waded through hot standing water in the parking lot to get to their cars. Sandra Sterling, the aunt who helped raise Sterling after his parents died, wept near the hearse, saying she wanted to go with him, as police officers stood by.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.