By Juliet Linderman,, The Times Picayune

St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre and state Senator Gary L. Smith, Jr. pose with a group of St. Joan of Arc students after the 9th annual Blue Mass, which was held at the school’s church on November 9

On Friday morning, scores of St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff’s deputies gathered in uniform at St. Joan of Arc Church in LaPlace for the 9th annual Blue Mass, a service honoring first responders who have died in the past year.

This year’s Mass was especially poignant: Among the six St. John Parish first responders who died were Brandon Nielsen and Jeremy Triche, who were shot and killed in LaPlace in mid-August by members of the anti-government fringe group Sovereign Citizens. The ceremony also honored three other deputies and a firefighter.

The Blue Mass was Sheriff Mike Tregre’s first since he became the parish’s top cop in July — just one month before the deputy murders.

“It’s a thankless job,” Tregre said of law enforcement. “Nobody thanks you for bringing them to jail. But the responses and prayers from the community have been enormous.”

It has been a particularly difficult year for first responders in St. John the Baptist Parish, who were first rocked by the deputy murders in August, and just two weeks later were called upon to assist residents affected by Hurricane Isaac, which flooded large swaths of the parish and displaced hundreds of residents.

Among those in attendance at Friday’s Mass were St. John Parish District Attorney Thomas Daley, 40th Judicial District Judge Sterling Snowdy and state Sen. Gary L. Smith, Jr. , as well as St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom, who took the opportunity to thank the sheriff and his deputies for their help during and after Isaac.

“This is one of the most important events I’ve attended,” Robottom said. “Every day you put your lives on the line for us, and I want to thank everyone — the deputies, the EMTs — who was there for Hurricane Isaac.”

Deacon Kenneth Madere echoed Robottom’s sentiment in his address, during which he referred to the deputies in the audience as “the wall that protects us, the thin line between evil and disaster.”

After the official service, presider Rev. John-Nhan Tran initiated a blessing of the sheriff’s vehicle fleet before the deputies were ushered into the St. Joan of Arc School auditorium for a reception.