Hancock County

Lots of questions, few answers after Bay police chief’s death

An investigator walks past Chief Mike De Nardo's personal belongings that lay scattered behind the Bay St. Louis police station following his death Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016.
An investigator walks past Chief Mike De Nardo's personal belongings that lay scattered behind the Bay St. Louis police station following his death Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016.

At first glance, it seemed like any other Friday in Bay St. Louis.

Downtown businesses were making final preparations for Second Saturday Artwalk. And it was a football Friday with the kind of electricity in the air expected when St. Stanislaus and Bay High are preparing for important road games.

But it wasn’t just a normal Friday because less than 24 hours earlier, the town had been rocked by the news its police chief, Mike De Nardo, had died as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The yellow crime-scene tape was gone from the Bay St. Louis police station’s back parking lot where De Nardo had shot himself, but things were far from back to normal.

Police Capt. Wes Mayley has been named the city’s interim chief and control of the Police Department has been turned over to Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam and his deputies.

From Grammy’s Donuts to the Mockingbird Cafe, what unfolded with De Nardo and the impending investigation surrounding him was a major topic of discussion.

The day after

La Chula Mexican Restaurant is a popular spot on U.S. 90, about a block from the Police Department.

With a menu where patrons can get a plate of tacos and a sweet tea for under $10, La Chula packs them in daily for lunch. Friday was no exception as the crowd discussed what had happened and why. Theories abounded, though little concrete information is available.

Brian Wilemon, a Bay St. Louis contractor, was eating his lunch with his friend, Volme Swanier of Pass Christian. While the typical Friday lunch discussion would be about football — Swanier’s son, VJ Swanier, is a standout football player at Pass Christian High — the discussion inevitably turned to De Nardo’s death.

“I never met him,” Wilemon said. “But I never heard anything bad about him and that says a lot about him as a person because this is a small town and everyone knows everything about everyone.”

Wilemon said he hasn’t speculated much on what transpired Thursday.

“I don’t know what was going on with him,” he said. “Even if he made some mistakes —and we all make mistakes —it didn’t have to end like this. It’s just tragic all the way around.”

Sad day in the Bay

Swanier, who runs a paint store in Bay St. Louis, said he was concerned there might be an active shooter when he first heard the news.

“I had just left the Bay and I was in Pass Christian when I heard about it,” he said. “From the way it was told to me, I thought somebody had shot the chief.”

De Nardo was rushed by ambulance to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport — about 16 miles from the Bay police station — because Hancock Medical Center does not have a trauma unit. Although a witness said De Nardo was alert as he was being placed in the ambulance, he was pronounced dead at 3:15 p.m. at the hospital.

“The first thing I wondered was why didn’t they just take him to the hospital across the street,” Swanier said. “Maybe if they didn’t have to drive so far, he would still be alive.”

As the La Chula lunch crowd started to thin, Tori Cools, who works at the restaurant, was cleaning one of her tables. She said De Nardo’s death had been a constant topic of conversation.

“I haven’t really talked to my customers about it, but all of the employees have been discussing it,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”