Biloxi, MS – The man accused of assassinating Biloxi Police Officer Robert McKeithan outside Biloxi police headquarters had previously threatened to open fire at a local high school, police said.
He laughed and smiled as he was being escorted into the Biloxi Police Department (BPD) headquarters, WPMI reported.
“Oh, the police are mad at me,” the smirking suspect told reporters on his way into the building, according to the Sun Herald. “Murder.”
Atkinson has since been charged with capital murder for the death of the 24-year BPD veteran.
His brother, 21-year-old Davian Atkinson, was arrested for accessory after the fact, WLOX reported.
Biloxi police have confirmed that Darian was suspended from Biloxi High School for three days in 2018, after he allegedly told a fellow student that he was contemplating “shooting up” the school, according to WMPI.
James Colwell said that Darian made the statement to his godchild, who was also a student at Biloxi High School.
“He made the comment that ‘I think I’m going to shoot up this place, too,’” Colwell explained. “My godchild said ‘you shouldn’t say that,’ and he said ‘I think I’m going to start with you.’”
The threat was reported to school administrators, who subsequently suspended Darian for three days.
“I feel that this young man kind of exemplifies something psychological that should’ve been looked into at that time,” Crowell told WBRC. “But they didn’t. They just kind of excused it, and let it go. And it looks like this time he made his threat good. He went and killed this policeman.”
Biloxi Public Schools declined to comment about the incident due to federal privacy laws, WMPI reported.
Parents were not notified about the threats at the time, but the district has since changed its policy.
The shooting occurred just after 10 p.m. on May 5, when the on-duty, uniformed officer was approached by the gunman in the parking lot of the Lopez Quave Public Safety Center on Porter Avenue, Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania said, according to the Clarion Ledger.
The suspect, later identified as Darian, then opened fire on the officer, shooting him multiple times before he fled the scene, WLOX reported.
The officer was rushed to Merit Health where he succumbed to his wounds just before midnight.
“It’s a very sad day for the city of Biloxi,” Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said during a press conference on Monday morning. “[Officer] Robert McKeithan… was murdered last night, right here in our parking lot.”
“The animal that did this is still on the run,” Chief Miller said at the time.
Chief Miller said that he did not have any details about the interaction between the officer and Darian prior to the shooter opening fire, and it is unknown whether the attack was random or targeted.
“The assailant did enter the police department at one point,” Chief Miller noted, adding that the killer “seemed a bit nonchalant” about murdering the veteran officer.
The Gulfport Police Department and the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office are leading the ongoing investigation.
Officer McKeithan, a 24-year veteran of the BPD, was an “unbelievably fine policeman,” Chief Miller said.
“Robert was always a very pleasant person. I don’t remember him ever having a scowl on his face,” he added. “He had a style of his own… he just seemed to connect with people.”
He was also one of five officers who received the Medal of Valor for saving four special needs children who otherwise “undoubtedly would have perished,” the chief explained.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” he said. “He was very gentle [and] likeable. He treated people with respect and dignity.”
Officer McKeithan, who was also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, planned to retire from the BPD at the end of 2019.
He leaves behind his wife, daughter, two stepsons, and a stepdaughter.
“He was a wonderful family man,” Chief Miller said. “I would ask that your prayers be with Robert and his family.”