Three years after her father was killed in the line of duty, 18-year-old Braley Garafola brought a special moment of peace to the families of Baton Rouge fallen officers, including her own.
"And He will raise you up, on eagle's wings, ... and hold you in the palms of His hands," Garafola sang, her sweet voice filling the sanctuary at the St. Gerard Majella Church on Plank Road Sunday morning. Moved by the song — but mostly the teen's strength to help remember her dad — the worshipers at the third annual "Blue Mass" for first responders stood to give Braley a standing ovation.
"It felt nice to be able to ... honor all the officers, especially my dad," Braley said after the mass. Her mom, Tonja Garafola, swelled with pride as those present complimented her daughter, a recent high school graduate, for her seemingly flawless performance.
Tonja Garafola said having the community continue to support their family has helped them all keep going after her husband, Brad Garafola, was killed in a 2016 ambush on law enforcement.
"We couldn't do this and walk this journey of grief without you," Tonja Garafola told the congregation Sunday. "Thank you all for being her and standing behind us."
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The Garafolas sat with the families of fallen Baton Rouge Police officers Montrell Jackson and Matthew Gerald, who were fatally shot along with Brad Garafola by a lone gunman in an attack law enforcement on July 17, 2016.
Another lawman injured in the attack, sheriff's deputy Bruce Simmons, and his wife, joined them, as well as the family of fallen East Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputy Shawn Anderson, who was killed in 2017 while attempting to apprehend a rape suspect.
And though he wasn't there, the community prayed for sheriff's deputy Nick Tullier, who was severely wounded in the 2016 ambush and remains under critical medical care in the Houston area.
"You are my heroes, my guardian angels," said Rev. Tat Hoang, the pastor for St. Gerard Majella Church. "Pray for the first responders, living and deceased. And pray for their families as well. ... How hard and dangerous it is to work in the field of our first responders today."
The church was filled with people wearing blue to show support of law enforcement, as well as many first responders in uniform, including East Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputies, Baton Rouge Police officers, Zachary and St. George firefighters.
"We have to watch out for our brothers and sisters," said former Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, who spoke at the end of the mass. "They deserve our help. They put their lives on the line everyday."
Former BRPD Chief Pat Englade, now president of the Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation, a nonprofit supporting officers that helped plan the event, said he hopes the Blue Mass will continue for years to come.
"It's a special Sunday every year," Englade said. "We're going to keep these guys in our hearts forever."