BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - As Biloxi prepares to lay fallen officer Robert McKeithen to rest, we are continuing to learn more about the investigation into his death.
Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania and Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson came by the WLOX studio to talk more about the investigation. They say the biggest question they still have about McKeithen’s death is why he was shot.
“We’re six days into this and the only question we don’t have (answered) is why,” said Peterson.
“It’s interesting about this case because in a lot of homicide investigations, you’re trying to be sure you have the right person,” said Papania. “There is no doubt in our mind we have the right person. There is no question we have the right person... but in spite of that, as to why something this brazen, this brutal would happen in a police department’s parking lot, is a big question and we hope to answer it.”
Darian Atkinson is charged with capital murder in the officer’s death. Authorities say he went into the police department, exiting a short time later. Unreleased surveillance video shows him a short time later walking up to McKeithen and shooting him multiple times in the back in a brazen and targeted attack, said the sheriff.
"(Officer McKeithen) didn't know what was coming," said Peterson. "It was very calculated; it was deliberate. Based on the video, Robert knew nothing that was going on behind him."
Before the shooting, authorities said Atkinson went into the police station, where he sat for several minutes.
“He was in the police department prior to the murder,” said Papania. “He sat in there several minutes and it appears, timing-wise, when Robert (McKeithen) arrived there, (Atkinson) exited the building. and Robert never entered the building... I don’t want to try and conclude what he was doing yet.”
One of the questions many have asked is whether the surveillance video outside the police station will be released. Papania said he doesn’t know how it would serve anyone to see video of the horrific act, which was difficult even for authorities to watch.
"I watched the video but I watched it to the point of Atkinson shooting Robert (McKeithen)," said Peterson. "At that point, I couldn't watch it any further.... In my heart of hearts, I couldn't finish watching it."
While the investigation is still ongoing, authorities continue to follow up on leads found through many of the tips they’ve received. However, they warn that anyone with information who hasn’t come forward will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"We had an overwhelming amount of information coming in," said Papania. "Unfortunately, there are those people that have the same amount of information and they sit on it. And, fortunately, our judicial system has laws that if you're found to sit on that information, we can take action.... If your moral fiber doesn't make you want to help in these things and we find out, we will hold you accountable."
Both Papania and Peterson were very adamant that certain details would not be released to the public right now.
"We're a week into this investigation and they have continued to work hard and it's our job to ensure they have their resources," the chief said. "We protect that investigation. We want to give answers to our public but we also want to ensure that we bring justice for that family, for that police department, and for this community."
Part of that means making sure that the information and evidence gathered by investigators isn't compromised in any way, they said.
"There are times, including this moment right now, when we're better served for this investigation to leave those topics on the table and let our investigators do their work," said Papania. "There will come a moment when we can go to our community and say, 'These are the findings.'"
It also means having to set to the side the heartache felt by both the chief and the sheriff, as well as all of South Mississippi's law enforcement community.
“I’m human and my human side of me was angry but from my moral fibers and the law enforcement side of me, the only thing I want to do with this person is prosecute him the right way, arrest him correctly, make sure our DA’s office and our investigators are working to make sure that every charge we have on him sticks so we have no problems later on during the investigation,” said the sheriff.
Chief Papania added to the sheriff’s statement: “How do I feel? Only my wife and my dog will ever know and that’s how it should be.”