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‘Good morning, my love’ was the last text from her husband, a Baton Rouge police officer

Brad Garafola was one of the three police officers slain Sunday in Baton Rouge, La.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Every morning that her husband sat behind the wheel of his police cruiser, Tonja Garafola began her day by tapping her phone to life and smiling at the text message waiting for her.

It usually arrived around 7:45, and this last Sunday morning was no different. “Good morning, my love,” it said.

An hour later, just as his overnight shift was winding down, 45-year-old Brad Garafola was shot dead.

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The East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy was one of three officers killed by a 29-year-old black separatist less than a mile from police headquarters in this southern Louisiana college town.

On Monday, Tonja Garafola learned about her husband’s final minutes as he faced the killer, Gavin Eugene Long.

Armed with a IWI Tavor SAR 5.56-millimeter rifle, Long was taking his time. He was after cops, not civilians.

One officer, wounded, fell to the ground and crawled, according to authorities’ recounting of a surveillance video.

Long closed in on him.

“Brad knew right then he could have waited for backup — he could have thought of just his family, of us,” Tonja Garafola said. “But that’s not what he did.”

“He could have stayed down, but he was never going to do that,” she said.

Instead, he moved to intervene, although it’s unclear how close he was to the wounded officer. Even after he was hit, Garafola returned fire as Long continued to shoot at him and the wounded officer.

Garafola “went down fighting,” said Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III.

Authorities believe Long, of Kansas City, Mo., was in Baton Rouge for days before the attack, which they described as militaristic in its precision. The superintendent of the Louisiana State Police called the officer killings “assassinations.”

Dechia Badeaux Gerald, the wife of another slain officer, took to Facebook after midnight Tuesday to thank well-wishers and write a message to her husband, Matthew Gerald.

“No worries babe, [the Baton Rouge Police Department], our community, family, friends, thin blue line family and military family has our 6,” she wrote, using the military lingo for watching a person’s back. “I’m forever grateful and will never forget. I’m drawing my strength from all the love surrounding me from all directions.”

Garafola was a 24-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office.

“Of course, of course, of course I want him back,” his wife said. “But I know that when he went to [help] that other officer, he wasn’t thinking of himself. He was thinking of the officer’s family.”

Garafola had four children, the eldest a 21-year-old son, the youngest a 7-year-old daughter.

“He’ll never get to walk his daughters down the aisle,” Tonja said. “That’s what I think about. Everything he’s going to miss. Everything he won’t be there for, because he was taken from us.”

nigel.duara@latimes.com

Follow Nigel Duara on Twitter @nigelduara

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