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Baton Rouge gunman intentionally targeted officers, police say

The Marine Corps veteran who engaged police officers in a shootout here Sunday, killing three officers and wounding three, hunted down his targets with deliberate and methodical precision, officials said Monday.

Gavin Eugene Long, a 29-year-old black separatist from Kansas City, Mo., was dressed in black and armed with two rifles and a 9-millimeter handgun as he ambushed officers at the B-Quik gas station on Airline Highway, less than a mile from the city's police headquarters.

Long “completely dismissed” civilians who were walking through the area, instead stalking police officers and positioning himself to shoot at close range, Col. Michael D. Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said at a news briefing Monday afternoon. 

Within minutes, Long had left a scene of carnage.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that these officers were intentionally targeted and assassinated,” Edmonson said. “It was a calculated act against those who work to protect this community every single day.”

Long was “extremely accurate” during the ambush, which unfolded outside the gas station and a beauty salon, Edmonson said. And he seemed skilled in handling the IWI Tavor SAR 5.56 rifle he carried, keeping a strap over his shoulder to keep the rifle in place as he shot officers.

Surveillance video showed a scene that was "chilling in the sheer brutality," Edmonson said.

As Brad Garafola, an East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputy and a father of four, moved toward a crawling officer in an attempt to help him, Long opened fire, fatally wounding Garafola.

He "went down fighting,” lying in a prone position, returning fire as bullets flew all around him, Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III said.

After killing Garafola, Long went back to the wounded officer and fired two shots, killing him.

A SWAT team officer ultimately shot Long from about 100 yards away, taking him down as he approached two other officers

“I could not be more proud of my SWAT team,” said Carl Dabadie Jr., chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department, calling the fatal hit a “helluva shot.” Without it, he said, he had little doubt the gunman would have attacked more officers.

“They did exactly as they were trained, without hesitation, without fear,”

Officials suspect Long, who drove a Chevrolet Malibu rental car 800 miles from Kansas City to Baton Rouge, had been in the city for several days planning the attack and looking for locations to target police officers. Long probably intended to keep killing officers as long as he could, Dabadie said.

“After he was finished here, I have no doubt he was headed toward our headquarters and he was going to take more lives,” Dabadie said.

The police chief vigorously defended the use of military-style tactics against protesters in the city — the focus of criticism in the days since officers fatally shot Alton Sterling, igniting noisy street demonstrations.

“We've been questioned for the last two weeks about our militarized tactics and our militarized law enforcement. This is why. We are up against a force that is not playing by the rules…. Our military tactics, as they’re being called here, saved lives.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards contrasted the “innate goodness” of those officers with the "pure unadulterated evil" of the shooter,  who "came in here from somewhere else to do harm to our community."

He described the shooting as a “diabolical attack on the very fabric of our society.”  

Long’s military service record included assignments at Camp Pendleton, San Diego and Twentynine Palms before his discharge from the Marines in 2010.

But over the last few years, Long left a lengthy Internet footprint documenting a growing interest in black separatism. In videos and in social media postings, he described violence as the solution to the oppression of black Americans and railed against Baton Rouge police for shooting Sterling. That case is being investigated by the Justice Department.

Last year, Long sought to legally change his name to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra, identifying himself as a member of a largely black separatist sovereign nation. According to a document filed in May 2015 with the Jackson County, Mo., recorder of deeds, and first reported by the Kansas City Star, Long claimed he was a “vet national of United Washitaw De Dugdahmoundyah Mu’ur Nation.”

Also known as the Washitaw Nation, the Washitaw De Dugdahmoundyah is a Louisiana-based group that claims to be a sovereign Native American nation within the U.S. The Washitaw Nation is made up of African Americans, and its core tenet is that followers are descendants of the “Ancient Ones,” or “black ones," who occupied North America tens of thousands of years before white Europeans.

It is part of the larger sovereign citizen movement in America, a fringe phenomenon that has gained attention on the Internet.

One of the Washitaws’ core beliefs is that the federal government has essentially imprisoned people, said Ryan Lenz, a senior writer at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. One way they believe the government controls them is through taxation. Followers of the movement, and other sovereign citizen groups, often try to dodge paying taxes.

“Once you go down this perverse rabbit hole of curiosity and accept all of these fantasies as true, then when you’re challenged on them, it becomes like a challenge to your fundamental reality and then people start to lash out,” Lenz said.

Killed in the shooting were Garafola; Baton Rouge Police Officer Montrell Jackson, 32, an African American who had worked on the force for a decade; and Matthew Gerald, 41, a white man who had been with the department for less than a year. Deputies Nicholas Tullier, 41, and Bruce Simmons, 51, and an unidentified Baton Rouge police officer were wounded in the shooting.

Tullier, who was critically injured and remains in an intensive care unit, had spotted the gunman's car and was about to run his license plate when Long shot him in the head and stomach.

“At this point, we’re just praying for him,” Gautreaux said. “He’s not in good shape at all.”

Simmons is in serious condition, the bone running from his elbow to his shoulder shattered by the gunman’s bullet. Physicians used a titanium rod to replace the bone.

Dabadie described Gerald as a devoted husband and father of two who had served in the Marine Corps and Army. He was a Black Hawk crew member and served three tours in Iraq. “He spent his whole life serving this country and our city,” Dabadie said.

The police chief also praised Jackson, a father of four, noting that just a couple of days before the shooting, when he went to talk to his officers to try to lift their spirits, “Montrell ended up giving me a pep talk.”

“That was the last time that I spoke to Montrell and I’ll never forget it,” he said. “He is a true hero.”

During a speech before the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement in Washington Monday, U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch read from a Facebook post by Jackson in which the officer pleaded for an end to the anger that crested after five police officers were shot and killed this month in Dallas.

She added: “If we are truly to honor his service and mourn his loss — and the loss of his friends and colleagues, and of too many others who have been taken from us — we must not let hatred infect our hearts. We must remember that no matter who we are, we all feel the same pain when we lose a friend or loved one.”

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Baton Rouge and Jarvie from Atlanta.​ Times staff writer Del Quentin Wilber​ in Washington contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

6:50 p.m.: Updated throughout.

2:06 p.m.: This article was updated with more detail from a press briefing.

1:35 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about the attack and the gunman.

This article was originally published at 8:05 a.m.

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