Three fallen Baton Rouge law enforcement officers.

Three families -- three wives and eight children among them -- left behind.

Since the killing of Baton Rouge police officers Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola in July 2016, the officers' families have displayed strength in public and delivered messages about their heroes -- each in their own, unique ways.

Garafola family

In late July, Tonja Garafola, widow of Brad Garafola, spoke at a community memorial that included former Vice President Joe Biden and then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

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Tonja Garafola, center, is escorted from the stage after delivering remarks. On Thursday July 28, 2016 at Healing Place Church, Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Gov. John Bel Edwards delivered remarks at a vigil honoring the three fallen law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty on Sunday, July 17.

In a speech to the crowd at Healing Place Church, she recounted her disbelief that Sunday morning on July 17 as she drove to the B-Quik convenience store to meet her husband in preparation for a vacation the next day. As she approached, she said, she was blocked by swarms of law enforcement cars. Eventually, she was told her husband had been killed.

"I was not even allowed to see him at the hospital," Tonja told the audience. "I had to go home with our kids and try to explain to them that our hero was not going to be coming home back to his family ... Since then, our children have slept in our bed just so they could feel and smell the presence of their dad."

Tonja also joined the "Steve Harvey" show in September during a a special, one-hour episode of the nationally syndicated talk show's town hall-style conversation on “Race and Policing.” Garafola achingly shared how much her four children miss their father.

Ja’mal Green, a member of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in Chicago and an outspoken critic of police tactics, talked next. "We're with you," he said, addressing a tearful Garafola directly. "We don't condone violence." Green then crossed the stage to share two hugs with Garafola.

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In October, Tonja appeared at a news conference where the Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation announced it was buying protective gear for officers and supporting families, like the Garafolas. 

Said Tonja: "I'm honored and proud to be able to participate in this organization to raise awareness. Brad is no longer here with me or with us, so I am here to speak on his behalf. I'm here for him, for our kids, and all law enforcement and their families."

In November, the family appeared at an event where Brad Garafola was inducted into the Broadmoor High School hall of fame, where he graduated in 1989.

In February, the Garafola family appeared at LSU baseball's game against Army. Brad Garafola Jr., threw out the first pitch at Alex Box Stadium. Tonja was in tears as she watched.

“This means the world to me,” she said. “For him to go out there and do that in honor of his dad, it's just amazing. For LSU baseball to honor Brad and the other officers as well, I couldn't ask for more. It means a lot to me and my in-laws and his brothers.”

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LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson (3), left, walks with Brad Garafola, Jr., the son of fall East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola, onto the field to throw the first pitch, Saturday, February 18, 2017, before LSU Baseball game one against Army in a doubleheader at Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.

Tonja did not hesitate when asked whether the leadup to this moment helped her son with the grief of losing his father.

“Absolutely,” she said. “All of my kids have been amazing with the grief process. We all have our moments, and we know that we're never going to stop grieving. It's just that day by day we get better at it.

“I know that Brad will be looking down and smiling from ear to ear. He would be so proud of his son — just as much as we're so proud of him.”

In March, Tonja was a grand marshal in Baton Rouge's "Wearin' of the Green" St. Patrick's Day parade. 

In late May, she helped hand out medals and took photos as racers crossed the finish line at an event organized to raise money to help with the medical expenses of sheriff’s deputies Cpl. Nick Tullier and Sgt. Bruce Simmons, who were wounded in the July shooting.

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Tonja Garafola, center, leans in to hug Melissa Nagy, right, of the West Windsor Township, New Jersey Police Dept., after Nagy ran the Motorman 5K race in her dress uniform, and East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office Sgt. Bruce Simmons, left, hands out finsher's medals, Saturday, May 20, 2017. The race and a one mile 'Deputy Dash' were held at Zachary High School to benefit EBRSO Cpl. Nick Tullier and Simmons, both injured in the line of duty in the police ambush shootings on July 17, 2016; Garafola's husband, Deputy Brad Garafola, was killed. EBRSO Deputy Nikkii Stonaker, between Garafola and Nagy, is Simmons' niece.


Gerald family

At the July community memorial, Dechia Gerald, widow of Matthew Gerald, recounted how she and Matthew's marriage hadn't always been smooth, as the Iraq War veteran sometimes grew distant as he searched for his next calling, which he ultimately found in becoming a Baton Rouge Police officer. 

"I have some big shoes to fill, and to be honest I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fill those shoes, but I promise as I stand here before you today, I will do everything I possibly can do to make sure that this country, our city and our state, continues to be united and join forces and become the country that my husband knew and loved and fought so hard for," she said.

In October, Dechia appeared at the news conference where the Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation announced it was buying protective gear for officers and supporting families, like the Geralds. 

Then in November, Dechia -- along with Alton Sterling's son, Cameron -- met with Saints coach Sean Payton and Saints players at the team's facility in Metairie. Warrick Dunn, a former NFL running back and Baton Rouge native whose mother Betty Smothers was killed while on duty for Baton Rouge police in 1993, was there to join Dechia and Cameron.

A tremendous gift arrived in March when Dechia gave birth to a son, Falyn Matthew Gerald. Dechia discovered she was pregnant with the couple's third child shortly after the July ambush. When Dechia held Falyn for the first time, he grabbed on to her late husband's wedding ring, which she has worn as a necklace since the attack.

A photo posted of the baby shows him wearing an outfit that reads, "My Daddy's my guardian angel."

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Jackson family

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On Thursday July 28, 2016 at Healing Place Church, Vice President Joe Biden, center, greets and hugs Trenisha Jackson, wife of Corporal Montrell Jackson, right, as Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, left, watches after she delivered remarks at a vigil honoring the three fallen law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty on Sunday, July 17.

At her husband's burial, Trenisha Jackson, widow of Montrell Jackson, made a passionate, unexpected statement to the media, saying there's work to be done in Baton Rouge so that violence in the city can end.

"We must come together as one so no one will have to experience the hurt and pain I'm feeling now and will continue to feel in the days ahead because I am now forced to live without my husband, my soulmate, my son's father, my hero, my superman," she said, locking arms with her family members. "Until we come together and unite as one there will be more killing. That's not what I want to see."

A familiar and powerful phrase was spoken by Trenisha at the July community memorial.

Echoing the now-famous words left in a Facebook post by Jackson, his wife asked the entire audience of hundreds to stand and raise their right hands, taking a newly-minted oath: "I will not let hate infect my heart."

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In October, Trenisha appeared at the news conference where the Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation announced it was buying protective gear for officers and supporting families, like the Jacksons. There, Trenisha reminded people that her husband's middle name is an acronym representing another phrase to live by: "Love yourself, love equally." And she reiterated a message she delivered at her husband's burial site: "If you're being harassed by an officer, you need to call them out. Go to internal affairs. Don't talk about, 'All officers are bad.' Because they're not all bad."

In February, Trenisha attended the reading of a legislative commendation at the Louisiana Capitol that honored Good Samaritan Vickie Williams-Tillman and the Baton Rouge Police officer she helped. Tillman has been hailed as a hero after she helped thwart an attack on Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Billy Aime.

A special presentation was made to Trenisha and her family in March at at Star Hill Baptist Church. The Jacksons were presented with a biblical verse album of over 100 newspaper articles and pictures compiled by Sue Hilliard. Mae McGuffery donated the album. The program, moderated by Meagan Harrison, included former LSU head football coach Les Miles, who spoke about Montrell Jackson, who once served as his bodyguard.

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At a program at Star Hill Baptist Church to honor the late Cpl. Montrell Jackson are, front, his widow, Trenisha Jackson with son Mason, and back row from left, Les Miles, Deacon Ken Duke, Sue Hilliard, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Cullen McDaniel and Mae McGuffery. 

In March, Trenisha was a grand marshal in Baton Rouge's "Wearin' of the Green" St. Patrick's Day parade.


Click here for a tribute to slain East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola

Click here for a tribute to slain Baton Rouge officer Matthew Gerald

Click here for a tribute to slain Baton Rouge officer Montrell Jackson