Partner: Protecting was in slain Baton Rouge officer’s DNA

Baton Rouge Police Officer Matthew Gerald (Baton Rouge Police Dept. via AP) At the right, his wife and kids mourn him at a candlelight vigil (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A written tribute from the wife of Baton Rouge Police Officer Matthew Gerald was handed out Friday before his funeral, saying his memory “will continue to bridge the gap and foster peace in the country he lived, loved and died for.”

Dechia Gerald, now a widow of two young girls, called him “my blue-eyed rock” and said “the only thing stronger than his love for the red, white and blue was his love for us.”

Among the hundreds of mourners were Sheriff’s Capt. Tom Cox from Knox County, Tennessee, who said he also traveled to Dallas to attend all the funerals of the five officers killed by a sniper there.

“It’s numbing, with this many in such a short period of time” Cox said. “We hope this isn’t some trend.”

Gerald, a military veteran, was one of three officers killed by a lone gunman in Baton Rouge on July 17. Funerals for sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola and police officer Montrell Jackson are set for Saturday and Monday.

Officers Matthew Gerald, Montrell Jackson,  and Deputy Brad Garafola. (AP Photos)
Officers Matthew Gerald, Montrell Jackson, and Deputy Brad Garafola. (AP Photos)

They were slain by another military veteran, a black man whose rambling internet videos urged violent responses to what he considered oppression. After firing the fatal shots and wounding three other officers, Gavin Long was killed with a long-distance shot by a SWAT team officer.

Police leaders said Long’s ambush was at odds with how little violence there had been in Baton Rouge despite days of heightened racial tension following the police shooting of a black man, Alton Sterling, whose death was recorded and posted online.

The two officers involved in Sterling’s death were put on administrative leave and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating, but thousands of people protested in the streets of Louisiana’s capital nonetheless, demanding systemic changes to end what they feel are unjustified police shootings of black men.

Gerald joined the Baton Rouge Police Department less than a year ago, an enthusiastic rookie at age 41, after serving four years in the Marines and seven years in the Army, including three tours in Iraq.

His partner on the force was Cpl. Lester Mitchell, an 11-year police veteran. The two officers, black and white, began riding together on July 1, days before Sterling’s death.

“We talked about the madness, how much it was putting a strain on the community, police relations,” Mitchell said Friday. Gerald, he said, “was a protector. It was just in his DNA.”

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Associated Press writer Bill Fuller in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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