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National

Mourners Gather At Funeral For Slain Baton Rouge Police Officer

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today was a sad day in Baton Rouge, La. Policeman an Iraq war veteran Matthew Gerald was laid to rest in the state's National Cemetery. He and two other law enforcement officers were shot to death last Sunday. Authorities say it was a targeted attack. His funeral today was the first in a series of memorials. NPR's Debbie Elliott sent this report.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Officers lined the entrance of the Healing Place Church, saluting the flag-draped casket of Matthew Lane Gerald. Hundreds of police cars, lights flashing, followed the hearse that carried Gerald from Baton Rouge to the Louisiana National Cemetery in Zachary. Bystanders lined the roadways to pay their final respects. Gerald is the first lawman to be buried since Sunday's attack that also killed his fellow officer Montrell Jackson and Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garofola. Gerald leaves behind his wife, two young daughters, his parents and a brother. He was 41 - a rookie cop who had only joined the Baton Rouge police force in March. During an emotional service, the commander of the police academy, Lieutenant J.D. Leach, recalled Gerald as one of the oldest in his recruit class.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JD LEACH: I asked Matt, why now? What had he been doing? What brought him here? And Matt simply responded, I've been serving my country, and now it's time to serve my community.

ELLIOTT: Gerald spent 11 years in the military, a Marine who had also served as a Blackhawk helicopter crew chief in the U.S. Army. He did three tours in Iraq, rejoining after the 9/11 attacks, according to his best friend, Dave Mulkey. They were roommates at the time, watching it on television.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVE MULKEY: Glued to the TV, crying, Matt stands up. And I'll never forget this. This was one of the most proudest moments I've ever seen. He stands up, and he says - he screams at the TV, says I'm going back in.

ELLIOTT: Mulkey also shared the last text message he received from his friend since childhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MULKEY: I was checking on him after the protest. I told him to be careful and keep a cool head. His last text to me - and I'm probably going to say this the rest of my life - was I'm going to do what I got to do to keep you all safe, old boy.

ELLIOTT: Baton Rouge had erupted in protests after the police killing of a black man, Alton Sterling. In the tense week that followed, five officers were killed in Dallas. Then, Sunday, it happened here. Gunmen Gavin Long, also a veteran, killed three lawmen and wounded three others before he was killed. Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie says there was no way to prepare for such an ambush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARL DABADIE: When an assassin's bullet targeted the uniform and our heroes on that Sunday morning and the shots rang out, it shattered our peace, threatened our protection and touched the soul of a city.

ELLIOTT: The investigation continues, but authorities say Long, from Kansas City, killed the officers deliberately. A self-proclaimed sovereign citizen, Long had posted online videos calling for bloodshed. During Gerald's service, Chief Dabadie was visibly angry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DABADIE: You know, the media has blasted us for what we do, basically portraying law enforcement as these bunch of bullies who go around and beat people up. Well, I want you to look around in here, and you look at the bullies. We're not bullies. We're protecting our communities.

ELLIOTT: Officers from around the country attended the funeral. Sergeant James Freeman is with the Tyler, Texas, police department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES FREEMAN: You know, these are our brothers in blue. And it doesn't matter where you are in the country. You give your life in the line of duty, then, you know, we're going to - we're going to come honor that.

ELLIOTT: Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden called on his community in mourning to evaluate itself and set aside differences as they bury the fallen officers. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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