Robert McKeithen: ‘An unbelievably fine policeman’

Officer Robert McKeithen

Update May 8: A conversation with the McKeithen family. See the story and the video
Also, see the video of the laying of a wreath by city officials and of the vigil.

Update: May 7: City officials laid a wreath and prayed for Officer Robert McKeithen near his patrol car and a prayer vigil was held, all at the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center. See the story

Update: May 6, 10:40 p.m.: Darian Tawan Atkinson apprehended in Wiggins. See interview with Biloxi Police Chief John Miller.

Update: May 6, 10:40 p.m.: Darian Tawan Atkinson apprehended in Wiggins. See interview with Biloxi Police Chief John Miller.

Update May 6, 6:33 p.m.: Capital murder warrant issued for Darian Tawan Atkinson. See photo.

Update, May 6, 6:33 p.m.: See unedited video of media briefing late Monday afternoon announcing capital murder arrest warrant being issued. Eight minutes, features Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania, Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson and Biloxi Police Chief John Miller. To see, click here.

Story posted May 6, 12:06 p.m.:

Officer Robert McKeithen, a decorated 24-year Biloxi Police officer who was gunned down Sunday night in front of the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center, was remembered this morning by Police Chief John Miller as “an unbelievably fine policeman.”

McKeithen, 58, a husband and father of four who was planning to retire at the end of this year, “had a style of his own,” said Miller, who earlier in his career had responded to calls with McKeithen. “He just seemed to connect with people. That is not always easy in our business, but he had a knack for connecting with folks and having them connect with him.”

Miller was somber as he spoke during a press conference in front of the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center this morning, just steps away from where McKeithen was fatally shot Sunday night shortly after 10 p.m. Miller said the Gulfport Police Department would lead the investigation into McKeithen’s slaying, which Miller called “a murder” by “an animal.” Sunday night, Biloxi Police officers were joined by officers from neighboring agencies in responding to the incident. Police are continuing to search for the gunman.

By noon, $35,000 in rewards had been offered for help in the case: $20,000 from the FBI, $10,000 from the U.S. Marshals Service, and $5,000 from Crimestoppers. Those with information should call the Gulfport Police Department at 228-868-5959.

Miller and Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania did not discuss details of the shooting this morning. Miller, instead, chose to speak about McKeithen: “He did a great job. He took care of the citizens of Biloxi for almost 24 years,” the Biloxi chief said. “He was an Air Force veteran. During Katrina, Robert, with other officers, was awarded the medal of valor for saving four special needs children. That was the kind of guy he was. It was a horrible, horrible event he had to go through but he went through it anyway. And they saved those children, who undoubtedly would have perished. I tell you that because I want you to know the kind of man that he was — a fine and decent man, a great policeman and he served the citizens of Biloxi well.”

Robert McKeithen was born in Jackson, Miss. on March 22, 1961. He graduated from Santa Ana (Calif.) High School in 1979 and retired from the U.S. Air Force in July 1995 as a Technical Sergeant at Keesler Air Force Base. In August 1995, he was hired by the Biloxi Police Department as a 3rd Class Patrol Officer. He was promoted to 2nd Class Patrol Officer in August 1997 and to the rank of 1st Class Patrol Officer in August 1998.

Added Miller: “He was a wonderful family man. That’s where he spent all of his time was with his family. He was a gentle man for a policeman. He was very gentle. Likeable. He treated people with respect and dignity and we’re going to miss him sorely.”

McKeithen is survived by his wife, a daughter, two stepsons, and a stepdaughter. He was planning to retire from the department later this year.

“This is dreadful,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo Gilich, who on Sunday night was at the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center in the wake of the shooting and consoled McKeithen’s family at Merit Health in Biloxi. “Officer McKeithen dedicated his life to this job and this community. This is a tragic reminder of the dangers that these men and women face in their chosen profession, which is to protect our community.”
Video: See the press conference from this morning
Gallery: Photo of Robert McKeithen and images from media briefing
Video: See suspect in video from Gulfport Police Twitter account
See Robert McKeithen’s Medal of Valor letter
Video: See body of slain officer arriving at funeral home
See the Mississippi Crime Stoppers billboard
See more about the Biloxi Police Department