When Lafayette Police Sgt. Aaron Thibodeaux became the patrol sergeant of a new squad, he didn’t know what to make of one of its members, Officer Michael Middlebrook.

Middlebrook seemed reclusive, a bit of a loner. Then Thibodeaux noticed Middlebrook’s squad car routinely parked outside the same store around midnight, and Thibodeaux grew suspicious. Thibodeaux talked to the manager one night after Middlebrook left the store, and  learned Middlebrook was collecting sandwiches that, while still edible, would have been tossed otherwise.

“My first thought was these guys are keeping Sarge out of the loop and getting free meals, which we know is against police code ,” Thibodeaux said.“After I spoke to other officers about this, because I was still fairly new to the squad, I was told that Middlebrook would ride in the area and he would give these sandwiches to all the homeless people he could find at night.”

Thibodeaux relayed the story Friday to those attending Middlebrook’s funeral. Middlebrook was shot and killed Oct. 2 when he and another officer responded to a shooting with multiple victims at a north Lafayette convenience store.

“Gunfire was exchanged” with the assailant, according to Louisiana State Police, and Middlebrook was fatally struck. Two civilian victims were treated for non-life-threatening wounds.

The suspect, 28-year-old Ian Howard, was apprehended near the crime scene at the Big Boy Discount Zone shortly afterward. Howard is being held without bail on first-degree murder of a police officer and faces three additional counts of attempted murder.

Middlebrook is survived by his wife, Adrien Middlebrook, daughter and two stepdaughters. 

Middlebrook's leftover sandwich distributions earned him a Heart of Law Enforcement award earlier this year. But they weren't the end of Thibodeaux’s unexpected encounters with Middlebrook’s generous acts.

On another occasion, Thibodeaux responded to a call of drug addicts squatting in a home with no heat and no electricity, although he learned later the subjects resided there. While on the initial call, Thibodeaux questioned one of the residents about where they had obtained a propane-fueled heater that he suspected was stolen.

“I expected her, as most of us would, to come up with the same old story as usual," Thibodeaux said. "She looked at me and  she said ‘Mikey.’ I said, ‘Well who is Mikey?’ She said, ‘Middlebrook.’”                          

Thibodeaux continued,“Over time I realized Middlebrook didn’t show up for work to hang out between calls, socialize. Middlebrook was all about the business. Every day he would show up to work on a mission.”

Hundreds of people filled Our Savior’s Church on Broussard Road, where Middlebrook was a member, to attend the funeral.

An open-casket visitation preceded the funeral, and the winding visitation line was filled with uniformed representatives of a breadth of law-enforcement and first-response agencies. They included the Cameron Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Duson Fire Department and the Youngsville Police Department, among many others.

Throughout the visitation, two members of Middlebrook’s honor guard stood at either side of his casket in rotating shifts, with two new members taking over every 10 minutes or so. The visitation line halted with every shift change to allow for a “slow salute,” in which the entering and departing honor-guard members changed places with deliberate, slow-motion movements.

Scott Police Chief Chad Leger said later that funerals such as Middlebrook’s are bonding moments for the profession, albeit under the worst circumstances.

“Even though this is a horrible day in Lafayette Parish, it’s also going to bring the family of law-enforcement together even stronger,” Leger said.

Attendance among law-enforcement community members was not limited to the region or the state. Two Chicago police officers mingled with two Lafayette counterparts in the parking lot prior to the funeral service as William Ritchey, a Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy, warmed up his bagpipes nearby.

Ritchey, dressed in his uniform shirt and a kilt, said he has played at about ten law-enforcement funerals, although none this close to home.

“All over the nation they are coming down,” he said, referring to officers who traveled from hundreds of miles away to attend the funeral and pay their respects.

Middlebrook’s partner, Officer David Sibley, told those gathered at the funeral of Middlebrook’s knack for nabbing suspects almost immediately following crimes. Another of his friends on the force, Officer Karl Ratcliff, said Middlebrook possessed “instincts you can’t teach” and “poise you can’t train into a man.”

But Middlebrook was remembered for more than his quiet acts of charity, his professional aptitude and his deeply held faith.

“He taught me how to be more than a police officer at work, but when I go home, how to love my family, and how to place value in those around me,” Ratcliff said. “Mike was filled with love, and he taught me how to love this community when it doesn’t love you back, or it doesn’t seem like it.”

After the service, mourners left the church and gathered quietly around Middlebrook’s flag-draped casket. Family members sat under a small tent while officers stood at attention. The sound of a police dispatch radio call broke the silence. The dispatcher called to Middlebrook in the field, asking for a response. After a long silence, the dispatch voice said “442 is now 10-7.”

A miles-long vehicle procession left the church and wove more than 10 miles through Lafayette, ending at Delhomme Funeral Home, where family paid their final respects in private. As the vehicles passed in front of Plantation ElementarySchool, hundreds of students and teachers lined the roadside waving flags and handmade banners.

Middlebrook’s death is rippling throughout the region’s law-enforcement community in small ways, even among those who didn’t know him. Leger, the Scott police chief, for instance, said he took extra time this week to discuss safety with a new recruit who would be working alone at night.

“It was a very lengthy conversation,” Leger said. “I do not want to be one that knocks on the door and tells the wife and kids and mother and father that something happened to you.”

Sibley, Middlebrook’s partner, knows how it feels to make that knock. While delivering the news, he recalled, Middlebrook’s three-year-old daughter, Violet, stared up at him, asking if her daddy was dead.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t answer you then,” he said at the service, addressing Violet directly. “No sweetheart, no, because heroes don’t die.”

Advocate photographer Leslie Westbrook contributed to this article.

Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.