BILOXI (AP/WLOX) — The mother of the 19-year-old accused of shooting a Biloxi police officer says her son was troubled and his mental health had been sliding in recent months.
Officer Robert McKeithen was killed outside Biloxi Police Department on May 5. Authorities say Darian Atkinson ambushed the officer, shooting him multiple times from behind.
Atkinson’s mother, Pamela Broger, told The Associated Press that if her son shot McKeithen, it was because of mental health problems Broger said had developed in recent months.
“Darian went to Texas to work in August,” Broger said. “He came back two months later and he was a completely different person. I don’t know if something happened there because he wouldn’t talk to me. I don’t know if it was drugs.”
Broger said she had called police officers for assistance, but said officers told her they couldn't do anything because Atkinson wasn't hurting anyone.
"I'm not saying he didn't do it," Broger said. "But if he did, it was because he was suffering."
Broger said Darian Atkinson came home Sunday night when the family didn’t know about the shooting, and left Monday in Davian Atkinson’s car. Bromen said “obviously something more is involved” in the brother’s charge, noting the mother wasn’t charged.
Others see Darian differently than his mother. Biloxi NAACP chapter President James Crowell said that Darian Atkinson threatened his goddaughter in February 2018 when the two were Biloxi High School students discussing the shooting at Florida’s Parkland High School.
"He said, 'I'm thinking about doing the same thing here and I'm going to start with you,' " Crowell said Tuesday.
He said that his goddaughter’s family reported the threat to Biloxi High School, but nothing happened until they demanded an investigation. Crowell held a news conference at the time, saying parents should have been notified. The accused student, who was never named publicly, was reportedly suspended for three days.
"Even back then, he was threatening people," Crowell said Tuesday. "I guess he went ahead and did it this time rather than just talk about it."
Spokeswoman Jennifer Pyron said privacy laws prevent release of student records. Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania, who's leading the investigation, didn't respond to a text from the AP.
At the police station where McKeithen was killed, mourners continued to deposit tributes on his police SUV, overflowing onto tables the city set up.
Patricia Underwood said she drove from Gulfport to pay her respects to a man who convinced her goddaughter to remain in high school. She said her goddaughter called her in tears Monday night.
"She just cried and cried," Underwood said. She said her goddaughter was working at a Biloxi Waffle House two years ago and told McKeithen, a regular at the restaurant, that she was thinking of dropping out.
"He told her she didn't need to get out of school; she needed to stay in and walk across that stage and graduate. And she did," Underwood said.
She was joined by Linda Virgil, who retired from a Dillard's department store where McKeithen did off-duty work as a security guard.
"He would stay later to walk us to our cars every night," she said.
She said he loved to talk about his wife and the diamond rings he bought her, and about his children. "He helped everybody," Virgil said.
Biloxi Police Capt. Milton Houseman said he was one of the officers who brought in Atkinson. Asked if he had any idea why Atkinson smiled as he was brought into the police department after his arrest 40 miles away in Wiggins, Houseman said, “I wouldn’t venture a guess as to what was in his mind.”
State criminal records show no felony convictions for either Atkinson brother. Davian Atkinson was cited for speeding and other traffic offenses once in 2016 and once in 2017.
Copyright 2019 Associated Press and WLOX. All rights reserved.
Amy reported from Jackson, Mississippi.