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Details emerge about suspected Baton Rouge gunman, who had endorsed violence in online videos

🕐 7 min read

Authorities continued Monday to investigate the background of a 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.

The attacker — who officials said was armed with an AR-15-style semi-automatic during the assault — was identified by police as Gavin Long, a black man and Marine who had posted videos online seemingly endorsing violence as a way to push back against law enforcement.

The Louisiana State Police told the Associated Press on Monday that the gunman was “certainly seeking out police.”

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

Authorities are still exploring whether more than one person may have played a role in the incident, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation who asked not to be identified.

A day after the shooting, some details about the violent incident remained unclear. Police said officers were responding to reports of a man with a rifle in an area filled with businesses, but they have not said if they believe Long placed the call or in some way tried to lure officers there.

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 in remarks 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.”

Col. Michael Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, the agency leading the investigation, on Sunday outlined just how quickly the event unfolded. He said police were contacted about a man “carrying a weapon, carrying a rifle” at about 8:40 a.m. and soon saw the gunman, wearing all black. 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.

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.

Long wrote or posted online frequently 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.

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 superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said at a news conference.

This brief, bloody rampage in Baton Rouge came just 10 days after the 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 killed 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.

This year’s tally 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.

The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.

Video: A man carrying a rifle outside a Baton Rouge convenience store shot six police officers on July 17, killing three. Here’s what we know so far. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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