The adage “time heals wounds” does not always ring true, as many can attest from an event of nearly a year ago.
The ambush shooting which killed three law enforcement officers and killed three others in front of the B-Quick Food Mart brought the same tone of infamy to the date July 17, 2016 for residents of the Baton Rouge area.
It falls very much in the mindset of assassinations and other senseless attacks on human life. The ambush shooting took the lives of East Baton Rouge sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola and Baton Rouge Police officers Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson.
EBRSO Deputy Nick Tullier, who was critically wounded, remains in long-term rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, while fellow EBRSO Sgt. Bruce Simmons and BRPD Cpl. Chad Montgomery were also wounded but have recovered.
The close proximity alone stunned all the parishes surrounding East Baton Rouge, but it hit much closer to home for Livingston Parish residents once the reports verified that the three slain officers, along with Tullier, lived in Livingston Parish. In fact, a sense of uncertainty prevailed in regard to Tullier’s chances of survival during the first weeks after the shooting.
The shootings continued what had been a turbulent month, starting with the Alton Sterling shooting two Baton Rouge Police Officers July 5. Gavin Long, the assailant in the July 17 ambush, referred directly to the Sterling shooting for his reasons to perpetrate the massacre.
The July 17 shooting occurred just 10 days after five police officers were killed in an ambush shooting in downtown Dallas, a few blocks away from Dealey Plaza, where a sniper gunned down President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.
In the same way most people 60 years old and up remember what they did when the news broke of the JFK assassination, many can recall where they were when they got word of the Baton Rouge massacre.
It was a quiet Sunday morning when many either attended church services or slept in. Tensions were still high from the Sterling shooting and the subsequent demonstrations, but a momentary lull seemed to have taken shape that weekend. It was an otherwise quiet weekend, the type which gave many the false sense of assurance that the grief and hostility soon subside.
For myself, it came during a trip to Port Arthur, Texas, where I brought my family to visit my father. We got word through a text alert not long after a morning swim. News bulletins we saw on line first indicated one officer died.
The news gradually became worse, with one after another. The scene of the crime itself came as something of a shock because I fueled the van at that same gas station – a mere three miles from our house – less than 24 hours earlier.
The tragedy had already hit close to home in terms of the geographic proximity, but it became a much bigger blow to Livingston Parish when news came out that Garafola, Gerald, Jackson and Tulier all hailed from Livingston Parish.
What followed in Livingston Parish and throughout much of the state was an outpouring of sympathy and support to the officers, deputies and their families. Candlelight vigils were held throughout the area and churches held special memorial services for the officers.
One particular service at Christ Community Church packed sanctuary, which was exceptionally crowded because of the presence of broadcast media outlets not only from the local area and throughout the nation, but from Europe and Asia.
Three funerals followed with huge turnouts, including officers from across the nation. The sight of the the spouses and children of the officers during the funerals brought an overwhelming sense of grief among spectators.
The group of mourners seemed almost like a melting pot. Different nationalities and cultures stood in the funeral homes and along the subsequent procession routes to salute the officers to their final resting place.
It represented a sad sense of irony to see different races standing side-by-side in grief when racial strife sparked Gavin Long to open fire on the officers.
The year that elapsed since the shooting has not quelled the grief. Families of some of the victims dealt with flood issues less than a month later, a brutal sense of insult to injury.
People have come together to help the families in some way, shape or form over the last year. For all practical purposes, however, the date July 17, 2016 will go down as one of the darkest days in our region.
The horrific turn of events that day reminded us once again that tomorrow is never a guarantee
The only positive means of observing this day is to cherish your family members and friends, and let go of grudges. It’s also a great day to thank our officers – and their loved ones – for the sacrifices they make to ensure our safety.
It may not heal the wounds, but it provides a sense of hope.