Police say Baton Rouge gunman ‘was targeting officers’ and ambushed them – Washington Post

Authorities said Monday that they believe the gunman who opened fire in Baton Rouge a day earlier, killing three police officers and injuring three others before dying in a shootout with police, was looking for law enforcement and ambushed the officers.

“We do believe he was targeting officers, and he definitely did ambush these officers that he shot,” Lt. J.B. Slaton, a Louisiana State Police spokesman, said Monday morning.

Slaton said that it was still early in the investigation, which the state police are leading, and added that authorities were still trying to figure out what motivated the attacker.

Police identified the gunman as Gavin Long, a black man and former Marine who had posted videos online seemingly endorsing violence as a way to push back against law enforcement.

“We’re trying to figure out his motive. We’re trying to figure out why he would commit this heinous crime,” Slaton said.

Slaton did say that it did not appear any of the 911 calls regarding a man with a gun that came in Sunday were made by Long. Instead, he said, most of these reports were made by officers who saw the armed man.

Officials familiar with the investigation said Long said was armed with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle during the assault.

Long had lived in Kansas City and, according to a document filed with Jackson County, Mo., last year, sought to change his name from Gavin Eugene Long to Cosmo Ausar Setepenra. In this document, filed with the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds and first reported by the Kansas City Star, Long claimed his nationality was “Washitaw.”

According to law enforcement officials, Long was carrying a Washitaw Nation membership card during the shooting on Sunday. Washitaw Nation is a black nationalist movement that was once targeted by the FBI, and federal courts have characterized it in the past as fictional.

The founder’s son told The Washington Post that he didn’t know Long and that the group doesn’t espouse violence.

Slaton said Monday that authorities still believe Long acted alone but that they are continuing to investigate the shooting and asking the public to come forward with any videos they may have about the shooting. Police were still looking into any possible connections Long may have had to people in Louisiana or Baton Rouge.

Earier Monday, Col. Michael Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, told the Associated Press that Long was “certainly seeking out police.” Edmonson called the shooting an “ambush.” Slaton confirmed his remarks.

The shooting came at a time of tension nationwide over race and policing, and it struck officers in a city that has seen some of the most heated protests against police officers in recent memory after officers fatally shot Alton Sterling earlier this month.

While police officers were again left on edge, activists strongly decried the shooting in Baton Rouge, which left people in Louisiana’s capital city feeling shaken and uneasy.

“American flags are again flying at half-staff across the country,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Monday. “Families are again mourning loved ones robbed from them by senseless violence. Police officers are again grieving for their friends. And all of us are again heartbroken at the news of yet another tragedy; shocked by such callous disregard for human life; and dismayed at yet another instance of violence tearing at the fabric of our nation.”

On Sunday, Edmonson outlined just how quickly the event unfolded.

He said police responded to a man “carrying a weapon, carrying a rifle” at about 8:40 a.m. Within two minutes, shots were reported fired, and two minutes later officers were reported down. By 8:48 a.m., officers engaged the gunman and killed him in a shootout, Edmonson said.

Sunday was Long’s 29th birthday. Before the shooting rampage, he had served five years in the Marine Corps as a data network specialist, leaving active duty in 2010 as a sergeant, according to military records.

These records state that Long deployed once to Iraq from June 2008 to January 2009 and did not experience direct ground combat. He was assigned to units in Miramar, Calif., and Okinawa, Japan, during his military career. At least one of the officers killed Sunday — Matthew Gerald — was also a veteran.

The University of Alabama said that Long attended the school for a semester in the spring of 2012, according to a spokesman, who said that Long had no interactions with university police during this time there.

Before that, Long got a degree from a community college in Texas. Central Texas College said Monday that Long attended the school at a site it had at a Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, Calif., and through online education between 2007 and 2011. Long got an associate of arts degree in general studies from the college, school records show.

Long also left behind a social media trail showing that he apparently believed that black people had to physically resist mistreatment from authorities, saying that sometimes it was necessary “to go to war.” After five Dallas police officers were gunned down this month by a man who authorities said was angered by police killings, Long posted a video on YouTube saying that he was “not gonna harp on that … it’s justice.”

A report from SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist behavior online, said that Long’s social media trail showed that “he consistently digested conspiracy theories and sovereign citizen media,” referring to a group that believes the government operates illegally. Officials have warned for years that anti-government groups pose a threat to law enforcement.

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said he first heard of the Washitaw Nation about 20 years ago. The group emerged as an offshoot of the sovereign citizen movement.

“Sovereign citizens rationalize the ability to disobey virtually any law, order, pact, you name it,” he said. “It is one of the extremist movements in the United States that targets police. It believes that law enforcement has no jurisdiction over it whatsoever.”

The Wachitaw Nation’s roots can be traced to the northeast part of Louisiana, close to Monroe. The group’s founder, Empress Verdiacee Tiari Washitaw-Turner Goston El-Bey, wrote a book titled “Return of the Ancient Ones,” laying claim to the belief that she and others descended from ancient “Mound Builders” in the northern part of Louisiana, close to Monroe.

Long appeared to have interests in a number of movements, not just the Washitaw Nation. He espoused his beliefs about the importance of alpha-male dominance, along with spirituality and natural healing.

“It’s very possible he was a seeker … someone who goes from cause to cause and looks at a number of causes, trying to find something,” Pitcavage said.

In his postings online, Long frequently wrote under the handle “Cosmo” on an array of topics, describing himself at one point online as a “nutritionist, life coach, dietitian, personal trainer, author and spiritual advisor.”

Records show he was married in 2009 and divorced in 2011, and his online videos and writings seem to suggest a reverence for black women. His book contains a special thank you to “the all-powerful, most beautiful, one and only Black woman.” Efforts to reach his ex-wife were unsuccessful.

Jenny Reese, a 34-year-old who practices an alternative therapy that promotes hands-on healing, said she met Long — who she knew as Cosmo — when he stopped by a Virginia Beach, Va., reiki center in February.

“He said he was on his book tour,” she said. “I was working at the front desk, and we chatted for about 15 minutes. He was just telling me that he was into energy healing.”

When Reese was told Monday morning that Cosmo appeared to be the Baton Rouge gunman, she said it was unexpected because he had seemed outgoing and chatty. “I’m very surprised because he seemed to be such a positive person,” she said. “He was trying to get out there and meet people.”

Police investigating the shooting in Baton Rouge said they had questioned and then released without charges two people from Addis, a town in West Baton Rouge Parish. They did not specify why these people were questioned. Relatives had said that Long was in Louisiana to celebrate his birthday.

“The violence, the hatred, just has to stop,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at Sunday’s news conference. “We have to do better. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and the people who carried out this act, the individuals, they do not represent the people of Baton Rouge, or the state of Louisiana.”

The officers killed Sunday were identified as Matthew Gerald, 41, a Marine and Army veteran who served in Iraq before joining the Baton Rouge police; Montrell Jackson, 32, also of the Baton Rouge police department; and Brad Garafola, 45, of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. They left behind grieving relatives and, between the three of them, had seven children, the youngest just four months old.

Another sheriff’s deputy was in critical condition after the shooting, Edmonson, the Louisiana State Police superintendent, said at a news conference.

This brief, bloody rampage in Baton Rouge came just 10 days after five police officers were slain in Dallas. And in successive days before the Dallas attack, police in Baton Rouge fatally shot a man outside a convenience store and officers outside St. Paul, Minn., shot and killed a man during a traffic stop, both high-profile incidents pushed into national headlines by graphic videos showing the encounters or the aftermath.

“Stop this killing. Stop this killing. Stop this killing,” said Veda Washington-Abusaleh, the aunt of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old man killed by Baton Rouge police on July 5.

After Baton Rouge police shot and killed Sterling outside a convenience store, heated protests bubbled up in the city, and scores of demonstrators were arrested during showdowns with heavily militarized police officers. The police response has been criticized by demonstrators for being overly aggressive — and prompted a lawsuit by civil liberties groups, alleging that the police used excessive force —  but officials have defended it as necessary. 

As an explanation, police said last week that they had received a threat against officers. Police said that one person involved in stealing guns from a pawn shop had said his group was seeking to shoot officers, which authorities say they treated as credible enough to prompt their aggressive response to demonstrators.

“When a police officer is shot or assaulted, it makes every single citizen in the country a little less safe,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union. “When police officers have to worry about citizens committing unprovoked acts of violence against them it makes it more difficult for them to interact with citizens and that is a key factor in law enforcement.”

The deaths in Baton Rouge pushed the total number of officers fatally shot in the line of duty to 30 so far this year — up from about 16 at this point last year. The average mid-year total, according to FBI data, is about 25.

Since 2005, according to FBI data, about 20 percent of fatal shootings of police have been ambushes.

This year, the total number of line-of-duty deaths has spiked significantly just this month: Two bailiffs, both deputized by the sheriff there, were killed in a Michigan courthouse last week, not long after the five police officers were fatally shot in Dallas.

Matt Zapotosky and Kimberly Kindy in Washington and Amy Brittain in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.

Further reading:

Sister of slain Baton Rouge officer Montrell Jackson: ‘It’s coming to the point where no lives matter’

Officer Brad Garafola’s wife arrived to pick him up from work. He would never make it home.

Slain Baton Rouge officer Matthew Gerald served in the Marines and the Army before becoming a cop

The shooting came at a time of anxiety nationwide

Obama pleads with presidential candidates not to politicize the police shootings

This story was first published at 8:58 a.m. It will be updated throughout the day.

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