As Dechia Gerald sat in church surrounded by mourners on the day of her husband’s funeral, she clung to her two young daughters. Despite the tragic nature of the day, however, this remarkable family was about to receive a special gift that would help the three to heal.
In July 2016 41-year-old Matthew Gerald – Dechia’s husband – was embarking on a police career in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He had graduated from the city’s policing school just four months earlier.
As a younger man, Matthew had served in the Marine Corps, where he earned the rank of corporal before leaving in 1998. He then returned to civilian life, but the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 compelled him to rethink his career path.
In fact, a friend claimed that the attacks moved Matthew to get back involved in public service. Consequently, he joined the army, which would later send him to Iraq to fix Black Hawk choppers.
In 2010 Matthew married Dechia and became a step-father to her young daughter, Dawclyn. He later decided to leave the military once again, and, in March 2016, he graduated from Baton Rouge’s police academy.
Dechia had felt that Matthew’s change of career would mark a new chapter in their relationship. But on July 17, 2016, the couple’s plans for the future were cut tragically short.
That month, tensions across the U.S. were high. That’s because on July 5 CD seller Alton B. Sterling was shot dead by police officers outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. This was the latest in a series of violent incidents involving African-Americans.
So, in a violent retaliation on July 7, army veteran Micah Johnson shot and killed five police officers at a protest rally in Dallas. Ten days later, meanwhile, more violence erupted in Baton Rouge.
In fact, on the morning of July 17, Matthew Gerald was among a group of officers responding to reports of a man acting suspiciously near a shopping complex on the city’s Airline Highway. When the officers arrived, a lone male shooter opened fire.
Matthew, along with fellow officer Montrell Jackson and sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, were fatally shot at the scene. Three others were wounded in the ensuing shootout, and a SWAT team took down the attacker not long afterward.
The gunman was 29-year-old Gavin Long from Kansas City, Missouri. In the days leading up to the killings, he had posted videos online referencing the shooting of Sterling and revealing his support of the Dallas attacks.
Although two other people were arrested in connection with the shootings, they were later released without charge. The investigation subsequently concluded that Long had acted alone.
For the families of the three murdered officers, however, a long and painful grieving process had begun. A candlelit vigil on July 18 drew scores of mourners, while Matthew’s funeral – the first of the three – was scheduled four days later at Healing Place, the Baton Rouge church of which he was a member.
As Dechia was choosing an outfit for the somber occasion, however, nine-year-old Dawclyn made a strange comment to her mother. “She said, ‘Mommy, I don’t know why you’re complaining,’” Dechia told WAFB. “She said, ‘Because you’re pregnant.’”
Dechia brushed her daughter’s comments aside, and Matthew’s funeral went ahead as planned. Heartwarmingly, the 2,500-capacity church was filled with people, many of whom, despite never having met Matthew, had traveled for miles to pay their respects.
But just a few days later Dechia got another surprise, this time from her three-year-old daughter Fynleigh. “She told me the same thing,” Dechia explained. “However, this time she told me that Jesus told her that there was a baby boy in my tummy.”
A week later, Dechia attended a family gathering and decided to take a pregnancy test. And, within seconds, the test confirmed that she was indeed expecting a baby.
Her happiness at what was her husband’s final gift was naturally tinged with sadness. “I wanted to cry,” she confessed. “But at the same time it’s exciting. But then just the flood of knowing [that] all of the firsts that he would miss [it would be] that one.”
Sadly, Dechia suspects that the baby was conceived just five days before her husband was killed. It seems that the couple had managed to snatch a night together despite Matthew’s busy schedule, much to her surprise.
Despite apprehension about raising a third child without the man she describes as a “hands-on” dad, however, Dechia feels grateful for what she views as a gift from God. “There’s no better gift that a husband could leave behind than a baby,” she added. “There’s no better gift than that.”