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Motive In Baton Rouge Police Slayings Still Unclear, Investigators Say

By Merrit Kennedy | NPR
Monday, July 18, 2016

Three law enforcement officers were killed and three others were injured in Baton Rouge, La., when a suspect fired on officers outside a convenience store.

This comes less than two weeks after a gunman opened fire on police at a protest in Dallas, killing five officers.

The suspect in Baton Rouge was killed at the scene, and police have not formally announced a name — but a law enforcement official told NPR's Carrie Johnson that the deceased suspect is Gavin Eugene Long.

The incident comes after two tense weeks in Baton Rouge, though it's unclear what the suspect's motive was. Earlier this month, a man named Alton Sterling was shot dead by police officers in Baton Rouge, and video of the shooting led to days of protests in the city.

WWNO's Tegan Wendland told our Newscast unit that the officers were shot near police headquarters. "It's the same area where several protests over the past week were met with heavy police response, and hundreds were arrested."

"We're going to get through this, and we're going to get through this together," Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie told reporters, visibly emotional. "This is not going to tarnish this city or this department. We're going to move forward."

The Victims

At a televised press conference, Louisiana officials said six law enforcement officers were hit. Of those killed, two were Baton Rouge city police officers and one was a sheriff's deputy.

Dabadie told reporters about the two officers from the Baton Rouge Police Department killed in the line of duty: "One is 41 years old and has just under a year of service. The other is 32 years old, with 10 years of service." A 41-year-old officer sustained nonlife-threatening injuries, and he has nine years of service.

Montrell Jackson, 32, was one of the Baton Rouge officers killed in Sunday's shooting, his mother Veronica and brother Kedrick Pitts confirmed to NPR's Colin Dwyer. His brother said Jackson had recently celebrated his third wedding anniversary and has a 4-month-old son.

"My brother was a hard-working police officer. He gave his life for his community," Pitts said. "He was everything to me."

On All Things Considered, Pitts said his brother loved his job and "just wanted to do good in his community." Pitts spoke about his brother's reaction to the Alton Sterling shooting and subsequent protests:

"He felt hurt, and he wants justice for their family also. ... He just wanted everyone to get through this together. He didn't want any hatred going on, and especially killing. He was a police officer, he wanted peace."

Also killed in the attack was BRPD Officer Matthew Gerald, 41, according to multiple media reports — including The Washington Post, which obtained confirmation from his father. Memorial tributes from Gerald's family and friends streamed in on social media Sunday, including this note from his friend David Mulkey:

The Post reports that Gerald served in the military before joining the Baton Rouge police force. Friends told the paper that Gerald deployed to Iraq three times.

"We did our time in the military, and when that time was up, you just can't turn off that want to serve the people," Ryan D. Cabral, who served with him in Iraq, told the Post. "Today he did his final service by giving his life to protect the citizens of Baton Rouge and his fellow brothers and sisters in uniform."

Brad Garafola, a 45-year-old deputy with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, has been identified as the third police officer killed in the shooting, according to The Associated Press among other media outlets. His death was confirmed to the news service by a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. Casey Rayborn Hicks told the AP that Garafola had served with the sheriff's office for 24 years.

"He was a great guy. Not just a great law enforcement, he was a great husband and a great father," Garafola's wife, Tonja, told The Advocate. "He didn't deserve this. He always helped everybody."

One of the wounded deputies remains in critical condition, according to East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. He is "fighting for his life as we speak, a 41-year-old," Gautreaux said. "And one had nonlife-threatening injuries. He's in surgery now." Gautreaux added that the deputy in surgery is 51 years old.

"Each one of these individuals is married, each one of these individuals has a family," Gautreaux said.

The Attack

Col. Michael Edmonson, the superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, provided this timeline of how the attack unfolded:

  • Approximately 8:40 a.m.: "Baton Rouge P.D. officers at the convenience store observed the individual. He was wearing all black and standing behind a beauty supply store holding a rifle."
  • Approximately 8:42 a.m.: "Reports received of shots fired."
  • Approximately 8:44 a.m.: "Reports received of officers down on the scene."
  • 8:45 a.m.: "Reports received of more shots being fired."
  • 8:46 a.m.: "Reports received of the suspect, again wearing all black, standing near a car wash located right next to the convenience store."
  • 8:48 a.m.: "Our [Emergency Medical Services] units started arriving at the scene, they were staging. They started approaching and getting the bodies that were at the scene to render first aid. Officers engaged the subject at that particular time, and he ultimately died at the scene. That was officers responding to the scene itself. State police and multiple agencies responded to the scene and attempted to secure the area, and identify possible potential suspects and further threats in the area."

The Suspected Shooter

We have only fragments of information about the suspected shooter, identified to NPR's Carrie Johnson as 29-year-old Gavin Eugene Long from Kansas City.

Long, who was black, was a former Marine. According to the Marine Corps service record provided to NPR, he served from 2005 to 2010 and obtained the rank of sergeant. He was deployed to Iraq for six months in 2008-09, and entered the service in Kansas City, Mo.

Long is identified by the Marine Corps as a "Data Network Specialist" and was also stationed in California and Japan. He received a number of awards during his military service, including the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the Navy Unit Commendation Medal.

No further information about Long was immediately available, including any information about the motive of the attack.

"We don't know the motive of the killer. We don't know whether the killer set out to target police officers, or whether he gunned them down as they responded to a call," President Obama said in afternoon remarks.

It's not clear whether the suspect acted alone. Early in the day, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office had said it believed there were two suspects still at large.

At the afternoon press conference, Edmonson said repeatedly that there is no current active shooter situation in Baton Rouge. "We do believe, based on the situation that we have — and again, this is ongoing — we believe that the person who shot and killed our officers, that he is the person that was shot and killed at the scene."

He added: "We do not believe that we have any other shooter ... in the Baton Rouge area, but understand this investigation has a lot of moving parts."

The Investigation So Far

"We are working the investigation. It's going to take us in multiple directions. A lot of leads out there — we're following them," said Edmonson.

The crime scene is "very large," Edmonson said, and the investigation involves multiple agencies. The Louisiana State Police is taking the lead, he said, working closely with the sheriff's office, the Baton Rouge Police Department, and federal partners.

He added that they have "many, many leads," without elaborating.

Mourning The Victims

"We're grieving as a law enforcement community," Gautreaux said. "We're grieving for each other, we're grieving for our loss, and we're grieving for our families. And we ask for your prayers."

In remarks this afternoon, Obama said, "attacks on police are attacks on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible." He added that "our hearts go out to the families who are grieving," and "this has happened far too often."

He urged Americans to focus on "words and actions that can unite this country," and said "we need to temper our words and open our hearts — all of us."

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden spoke with WAFB in a phone interview: "If this is not a defining moment for us to bridge the divide and come out with a unified voice, then I don't know what is."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards described the incident as an "unspeakable tragedy." He said: "These men, risking their lives to protect and serve this community ... they are real-life, everyday heroes." Edwards added:

"The people who carried out this act, the individuals, they do not represent the people of Baton Rouge or the state of Louisiana, or what's best about our country. They don't represent the values that we stand for. Obviously, our community is hurting, and only through peace and unity can we heal it."

He vowed to deploy "every resource available" to "bring these perpetrators — if there's more than one — to justice."

Likewise, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement that the Department of Justice will provide "victim services and federal funding support."

In May, Louisiana passed legislation that classified attacks on police officers as a hate crime. This will result in stricter penalties for offenders. The so-called "blue lives law" takes effect on Aug. 1, so it would not apply in this case.

We'll update this story as we learn more.

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

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