The initial goal of the United in Blue event was to raise $10,000 for the families of the Baton Rouge police officers who were injured or killed in an ambush in July.
Instead, representatives from South Mississippi on Monday delivered $10,000 checks to all three fallen and three injured officers and their families in time for Christmas.
“There was a lot of joy and tears in the room,” said Bobby Carter, director of community development at Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino Biloxi, where the United in Blue event was held Nov. 19.
Five of the families, including injured officers Chad Montgomery and Bruce Simmons, attended the $60,000 check presentations at the Baton Rouge Police Department.
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“They were very, very thankful,” said Detective Zachary Grady of the D’Iberville Police.
The family of Matthew Gerald, who died in the attack, was unable to attend. Tonja Garafola, who lost her husband, Deputy Brad Garafola, and Tenisha Jackson, whose husband Montrel Jackson was killed, were there with their families.
Deputy Nick Tullier is still recovering in a Texas hospital, Grady said, with his family nearby.
“They’ve been by Nick’s side through the whole process,” he said.
What many people don’t know, Grady said, is that not only did the families experience the horrific shooting on July 17, but then were flooded out of their homes less than a month later. Some of these officers and families are living in FEMA trailers, he said, and trying to rebuild their houses and their lives.
Grady came up with the idea of the fundraiser to show them South Mississippi cares. Mississippi Gulf Coast law enforcement agencies partnered with the Golden Nugget and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Blue Team. The fundraiser grew from a fish fry at a community center into a major event at the Golden Nugget Ballroom, with T-shirt sales and auctions to raise more funds.
As the potential to raise money grew, the organizers’ ultimate goal became to raise $10,000 per family. But in the last couple of weeks leading up to the event, Grady said he didn’t think they would make it.
“The overwhelming support from our community just started pouring in,” he said.
The Baton Rouge families were invited for the United in Blue weekend as guests of the Golden Nugget and were surprised with an escort across Interstate 10 by Coast police departments.
Carter said he’s been part of many fundraising efforts in South Mississippi.
“This one really touched me,” he said, noting that a bond grew between Louisiana and Mississippi law enforcement.
Grady said the best part of the event was people got to meet and friendships were developed.
“We want people to know that there is an individual behind that badge,” he said. They are fathers, husbands, brothers, he said, and since the shooting, “There’s kids growing up without a daddy now.”