Wiggins, MS - The suspect in the late night assassination of Biloxi Police Officer Robert McKeithan has been arrested after being spotted in Wiggins.
Stone County Enterprise reports, Biloxi Police Officer Wheeler lives in the area where the suspect was eventually found.
Off-duty Officer Wheeler spotted the suspect, 19-year-old Darian Atkinson, in front of the Hampton Inn.
The officer called Wiggins PD and Sgt. Tim Hill and Patrolmen Tyler Roberts and Cody Rayburn responded and took Atkinson into custody at gunpoint, according to Stone County Enterprise.
Atkinson is now in custody on a warrant for the capital murder of Officer McKeithan.
The shooting occurred just after 10 p.m. on May 5 when the on-duty, uniformed officer was approached by an unidentified suspect 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 gunman 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.
Police released surveillance photos of the suspect, and have since identified him as 19-year-old Darian Tawan Atkinson.
There a warrant and a $35,000 reward was issued for Atkinson.
Chief Miller said that he did not have any details about the interaction between the officer and the gunman 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.
Chief Papania said that Officer McKeithan’s murder was a “deliberate and violent attack” and that local, state, and federal law enforcement officers have been working "around the clock" to apprehend his killer.
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.”