BATON ROUGE, La. – Matthew Gerald served four years in the Marines and seven years in the Army, including three tours in Iraq, before he joined the Baton Rouge Police Department — an enthusiastic rookie at age 41.
One of three law enforcement officers shot to death Sunday in an ambush by a lone gunman, Gerald was remembered at services Friday, the first of the final goodbyes for the three.
Local sheriff's deputy Brad Garafola's will be remembered at a Saturday funeral. The funeral for another Baton Rouge Police Department member, Montrell Jackson, is set for Monday.
Custom-made caskets for each man were designed and donated by a Texas company.
"Officer Gerald's wife wanted his military background represented as well as his family," said Trey Ganem, owner of the company in Edna, Texas, and a former police officer.
Garafola's family wanted a collage of family photos inside, Ganem said. He added that Garafola's family plans to have him cremated after the funeral and will also receive a customized urn.
"Cpl. Jackson's wife thought of him as Superman," Ganem said. His casket will have a Superman shield, he said.
The three were shot to death by Gavin Long, a black military veteran, who had posted rambling internet videos calling for violence in response to what he considered oppression. After firing the fatal shots and wounding three other officers, Long was killed by police.
The shootings came at a time of heightened racial tension in Baton Rouge after the fatal shooting of a black man, Alton Sterling, by police. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Sterling's death. Video recordings that surfaced after the shooting raised questions about whether Sterling was a threat during his altercation with two Baton Rouge police officers.