Three police officers were killed and three others injured in a shooting Sunday morning in Baton Rouge, authorities said. The suspect, identified as Gavin Long, was shot and killed at the scene and police said, appeared to be acting alone. The deaths followed by only 10 days the fatal shootings of five Dallas police officers by Micah Xavier Johnson and amid a swell of heated controversy and demonstrations about the shootings by police of unarmed black men in Minnesota and Baton Rouge.
The three Baton Rouge officers were identified as Matthew Gerald, 41, a Marine and Army veteran who served in Iraq before joining the Baton Rouge police, Montrell Jackson, 32, also of the Baton Rouge police department and Brad Garafola, 45, of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. Gerald left a wife and two daughters. Jackson was the father of an infant about four months old. Garafola was married with four children. Another deputy was in critical condition after the shooting, Edmonson said at a briefing.
While police offered few immediate details about the exact origins of the incident, they say the violent incident unfolded early Sunday when officers responded to reports of a man carrying a rifle in an area filled with grocery stores and other businesses.
Col. Michael D. Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police, the agency taking the lead on the investigation, stressed Sunday afternoon that there was no active shooting situation and that police had killed the armed attacker, who died during a shootout with officers. Police provided no motive for the attack.
The attacker was identified Sunday afternoon as Long, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation. Authorities are exploring whether more than one person may have played a role in the incident, according to both officials, who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing investigation. Sunday was Long’s 29th birthday, according to one official. Long was identified in media reports confirmed by his military record as a Marine who achieved the rank of sergeant and had been deployed to Iraq before leaving service in August, 2010. Under a pseudonym, Long also made videos posted on YouTube, the most recent of which derided demonstrations like those after the shooting by Baton Rouge police of Alton Sterling two weeks ago, and advocated “bloodshed” instead.
“The violence, the hatred, just has to stop,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at the same news conference. “We have to do better. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and the people who carried out this act, the individuals, they do not represent the people of Baton Rouge, or the state of Louisiana.”
In the hours after the shooting, police had warned people to stay inside as they said they sought two other potential suspects. During an afternoon briefing, authorities said the lone attacker was dead, though they still asked people to remain away from the area where the shooting occurred.
Specific details about the shooting and the attacker remained unclear on Sunday, as officials did not say whether they believe the officers were specifically targeted or ambushed in some way. The shooting happened in a region still on edge after police fatally shot a man there, sparking heated protests that prompted a heavy law enforcement response that some have questioned as unnecessarily forceful. Activists on Sunday, meanwhile, quickly decried the shooting in Baton Rouge.
Edmonson said Sunday that officers were contacted about a man “carrying a weapon, carrying a rifle” at about 8:40 a.m. Police at a convenience store in the area saw the man, who was wearing all black, Edmonson said.
Chaotic moments ensued. Edmonson said shots were reported fired at 8:42 a.m., and at 8:44 a.m., officers were reported down. At 8:45 a.m., more shots were fired. At 8:46, Edmonson said the suspect was reported near a car wash next to a convenience store. At 8:48 a.m., as emergency personnel began staging to treat the wounded, officers engaged the suspect and brought him down, Edmonson said.
“This has happened far too often,” President Obama said in remarks at the White House on Sunday afternoon. “I’ve spent a lot of time with law enforcement this past week. I’m surrounded by the best every single day. And I know whenever this happens, wherever this happens, you feel it.”
In his remarks, the latest in a string of recent comments Obama has offered in the wake of shootings of and by police officers, the president issued a simple and impassioned plea for calm and understanding.
“We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric,” Obama said. “We need don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts. All of us.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux III said one of his deputies was slain — a 45-year-old — and two were wounded — a 41-year-old and a 51-year-old. The 41-year-old, he said, was in critical condition. The two Baton Rouge police officers killed were a 41-year-old with just under a year of service and a 32-year-old with 10 years of service, while a 41-year-old officer was shot and wounded, said Carl Dabadie Jr., the Baton Rouge police chief.
“We’re grieving as a law enforcement community,” Gautreaux said. “With God’s help, we will get through this,” he continued. To me, this is not so much about gun control as it is about what’s in men’s hearts, and until we come together as a nation, as a people, to heal, as a people, if we don’t do that, and this madness continues, we will surely perish as a people.”
Details also began to emerge Sunday about Long, the gunman who police said opened fire on his birthday. Two law enforcement officials said the gunman used a semi-automatic rifle during the attack. The FBI was investigating whether Long had any ties to black separatist movements.
A cousin of Long’s told The Post Sunday that Long had been in Louisiana to celebrate his birthday. The cousin — who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to affect his own employment — said Long was a bright young man who had recently traveled the world and written a book about his experiences, and he could not believe he would have been involved in shooting police officers.
“I can’t see my cousin doing nothing like that,” the cousin said. “I don’t know. Gavin is a good kid.”
This cousin initially said he had not confirmed that the Long from his family was the one involved, but he said later Sunday that family members had confirmed the gunman was their relative.
“Right now, I’m at a loss for words,” the cousin said. “I don’t know what happened.”
The cousin said his daughter had called him on Sunday to say that Long’s mother was not picking up her phone, and the family feared Long might have been involved in the shooting. The cousin said his daughter told him Long had been in Louisiana celebrating his recent birthday.
Long had served in Kuwait while he was in the service, his cousin said. Long was “quiet,” the cousin added, though the 29-year-old did post some videos online, confirmed by the cousin, in which he was outspoken on the topic of black people defending themselves by going beyond demonstrations to “bloodshed.” Most recently, he posted a YouTube video dated July 10 under the name of Cosmos Setepenra in which he claimed to be in Dallas, the scene of July 7 shootings that killed five police officers there promoting a book. In the video, one of several he apparently made, he noted that American celebrates Independence Day, when “Europeans” fought “against the oppressor” but that “as soon as an African tries to fight back” that’s different. “One hundred percent of revolutions … have been successful through fighting back, through bloodshed. Zero have been successful” through “simply protesting. “Revenue and blood,” that’s all they care about. “Revenue and blood.”
A far as he knew, the cousin said, Long was not interested in black nationalist movements, and he never expressed any particularly acute outrage about the shootings of young black men by police.
“He’s a smart kid, he’s a very smart kid,” the cousin said. “He wasn’t interested in any of that, not as far as I know.”
The cousin said he had not talked to Long in several months because Long was traveling to work on his book project. He said he could not believe, though, that his kin would have been involved in shooting police officers.
Long was a student at the University of Alabama for one semester in spring 2012, according to Chris Bryant, a school spokesman. The school’s police department had no interactions with Long during this time, Bryant said.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said he had spoken to officials from the White House, who offered to assist in any way possible.
“This is truly a sad day in Baton Rouge,” Holden said.