The Baton Rouge community started a somber period Thursday, filled with funerals and memorials for three officers killed by a gunman.
The law enforcement officers — Baton Rouge police officers Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola — were killed Sunday in what police described as an ambush.
"Knowing these guys were out there to protect and serve, I want to do my part," said Trey Ganem, a Texas-based maker of custom caskets who designed and donated the burial boxes for the services.
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Visitation for Gerald, 41, was Thursday evening, with a funeral service to follow on Friday.
The line of mourners seeking to pay their respects stretched around the funeral home, with more cars filled with people arriving throughout the evening. American flags dotted the area. Mourners included elected officials, law enforcement officers and others with no personal connection to Gerald.
Sherri Parent, 50, stood outside of the funeral home, a black ribbon threaded with blue pinned to her dress, watching as more and more people arrived. She was amazed at the outpouring of support from the community. While she didn't know Gerald, her brother is a city police officer.
"I'm just numb. You just don't think it would happen in our hometown," Parent said, dabbing at tears. "We've got so much hatred in the world right now. People used to have respect for law officers."
Leroy Owens, a 78-year-old retiree, handed out water bottles to people waiting in the heat to get inside the funeral home. The church he attends brought out a flatbed trailer filled with water for the visitation.
"They do so much for us. It's the least we could do for them," he said.
About 70 motorcyclists from the Louisiana Patriot Guard Riders showed up for Gerald. Doug Nobles, 66, assistant state captain of the group, said he expected double that number to show up for the funeral.
"We want them to know we came here, we're standing for them and we're proud of what they've done," Nobles said of the officers. "These three men have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their city and their country."
The group planned to attend each one of the slain officers' funerals.
Visitation and funeral services for Garafola, 45, are slated for Saturday. Services for Jackson, 32, are set for Monday.
All three were fatally shot in what police said was an ambush by Gavin Long, 29, of Kansas City, Missouri. Three other officers were wounded. Long died in the ensuing gunfight with police.
Ganem, owner of Trey Ganem Designs in Edna, Texas, said employees spent hours researching each fallen officer, speaking to their families and designing the caskets.
Gerald served four years in the Marines and seven years in the Army before becoming a police officer. The casket for the veteran who served three tours in Iraq will be customized to reflect that service.
"Officer Gerald's wife wanted his military background represented as well as his family," Ganem, a former police officer, said in a telephone interview as he drove to Baton Rouge.
Ganem said "Cpl. Jackson's wife thought of him as Superman" so his casket will have a Superman shield.
Garafola's family wanted a collage of family photos inside, Ganem said.
Police officers from Texas were escorting the caskets from Edna, located about 90 miles southwest of Houston, to Baton Rouge.
Tensions heightened in Baton Rouge following the death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was fatally shot by white police officers during a scuffle. Video footage set off angry protests in the city's black community. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the incident.
Whether Long's actions were in response to Sterling's death remains unclear. A black military veteran, Long had posted rambling internet videos calling for violence in response to what he considered oppression. He also peddled self-published books about empowerment and spiritual enlightenment.
On Thursday, one of the officers wounded in the ambush, East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Deputy Bruce Simmons, was discharged from the hospital.
Meghan Parrish, a spokeswoman for Baton Rouge General Medical Center, said about 300 hospital staff members and others lined up to applaud Simmons as he left.
Another deputy, Nicholas Tullier, remains in the hospital. Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden said Tullier was taken off life-support machines on Tuesday, but that he was still alive.