Gulfport residents react with shock, relief to Brent Warr guilty plea

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -  "I'm here to support the Warr family and we're real excited, because we're finally going to start healing," said Butch Oustalet, a friend of the Warr family.

Oustalet was among the 20 or so people who showed up at the federal courthouse in Gulfport Friday morning to support the Warrs.  And they stood behind Brent Warr and his wife Laura, just minutes after the former Gulfport mayor pleaded guilty to one count of FEMA fraud.

"We think it's just fabulous," said one woman as she walked out of the courthouse.

"You know, in many ways, it's hard to accept something like this," said Oustalet.  "But it's good that it's over with and it'll help heal the city of Gulfport and also the Warr family."

Many people echoed that same sentiment as news of the plea agreement reached the lunch tables at Port City Café in downtown Gulfport.

"I'm glad to see that it's over and I'm glad to see that they didn't do anything really bad to him, because he does have children and he can go on with his life now and make things better," said Kara Birtwhistle of Gulfport.

"I don't think they proved everything that they had to against him, so I think justice has been served, and maybe we can put this behind us now," said her husband Mike Birtwhistle.

When asked if he ever thought Brent Warr was guilty, Birtwhistle responded, "I don't think so. I thought he was maybe a victim of circumstance more than anything else. So many of us were during that time.  I think it's easy during these times of Katrina for everyone who was taking grants, and giving grants, making mistakes, getting fraud."

Restaurant owner Ernest Ulrich expressed his surprise at the outcome.

"I felt like he was a good mayor for the city and I felt he did the right things, but I was kind of shocked that he is pleading guilty to one count," said Ulrich.

Brent Warr had a few words to say to those who stuck with his family to the end.

"The true blessing is how much the people in this community, our friends, and even people who we don't know have come to us.  And we can't begin to say to the community how much we appreciate that and how grateful we are," said Warr.

Many people say their thoughts are with the Warr family, especially their two young children.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.