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In familiar rituals, hundreds gather in Baton Rouge and Kansas City for funerals of slain officers

Brad Garafola funeral
Tonja Garafola, widow of East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola, mourns with her children during his funeral at the Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., on Saturday.
(Travis Spradling/Associated Press)

The East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy killed last Sunday ran to help another officer when he could have stayed safe in the convenience store where he was working off-duty, a minister said at his funeral Saturday.

“It’s a remarkable story, the story of Brad Garafola,” said the Rev. Jeff Ginn, lead pastor at Istrouma Baptist Church. “He had a place of security, a place where he could hide. He left that place of safety.”

Garafola and two Baton Rouge police officers were killed outside the B-Quik convenience store by 29-year-old gunman Gavin Eugene Long, who was shot dead by police. Three other officers were wounded.

Hundreds of people line the streets of Baton Rouge to pay respects to slain Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola.
Hundreds of people line the streets of Baton Rouge to pay respects to slain Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola.
(Gerald Herbert/Associated Press )
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Sheriff Sid Gautreaux told mourners Saturday that one remains in critical condition and another faces a third operation on his shattered arm.

The shootings came at a time of racial tension in the city and country after a black man was shot and killed July 5 during a confrontation with two white police officers outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge.

The next day a black man in Minnesota was fatally shot by police, and his girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook. The day after that, a black gunman in Dallas opened fire during a protest against the Minnesota and Baton Rouge shootings, and killed five police officers.

The services for Garafola were held the same day mourners gathered in Kansas City, Kan., for the funeral of Capt. Robert “Dave” Melton, who was gunned down Tuesday in his patrol car while searching for a shooting suspect.

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In Baton Rouge, all 1,500 seats were filled in Istrouma Baptist Church. The walls were lined with additional mourners, many of them police who had come from around Louisiana and from coast to coast.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said strength and courage seem to have defined Garafola’s life and death.

Gautreaux said Garafola was “courageous, compassionate, fearless, fair, brave and benevolent.”

His brother-in-law, Jaye Cooper, said people called Garafola “the neighborhood husband” because he cut grass, caught snakes and did other chores for people in the community.

“He never asked anything for what he did,” Cooper said. He said Garafola died “doing what Brad had always done — trying to help someone else.”

During two hours of visitation before the funeral, a line of mourners snaked through church hallways, out the back door and into the parking lot. 

Two police officers and two sheriff’s deputies came from the Seattle area. Bellevue Police Officer Paul Dill said their chief thinks it’s important to honor brother and sister officers. He said the department sends an honor guard contingent to commemorate every out-of-state death in the line of duty.

Early arrivals for Garafola’s service included a deputy who worked with him in the department’s foreclosure division. He was dressed in Scottish regalia for a pipe band that played “Amazing Grace” outside the church after four helicopters flew over in salute.

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On Friday, hundreds turned out for a funeral service for Baton Rouge Police Officer Matthew Gerald, 41.  Funeral services for the third officer slain, 32-year-old Montrell Jackson, are scheduled Monday, with a multi-agency memorial service for the officers Thursday.

In Kansas City, officers from several nearby states were on hand to pay tribute to Melton, and military veterans holding American flags lined a street near the park to honor the 17-year veteran of the police force, who also served in the Army National Guard.

“You will see he was a true hero,” said Kansas City Police Chief Terry Zeigler, who struggled through his emotions to make it through his tribute to Melton. “Not only was he a hero in our community, but an American hero. He was on the front lines fighting terrorism to keep our nation safe.”

Authorities allege that a local man, 20-year-old Jamaal Lewis, shot and killed Melton while the officer was investigating a drive-by shooting. Melton was alone when he drove up to a person who matched a description of someone who may have been involved in the earlier attack, authorities said. Before he could get out of his unmarked cruiser, he was shot several times through his passenger-side window, and he died later at a hospital.

Lewis has been charged with capital murder in Melton’s death.

Melton, whose girlfriend is pregnant, also left behind three children. 

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