Harrison County

Slain Biloxi officer saved her children from Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. ‘He was there for us.’

Tributes from across the country are being shared as Biloxi police officer Robert McKeithen is buried Monday, and one comes from a Biloxi family he helped saved during Hurricane Katrina.

“I didn’t know him,” said Stacey King as she recalls the events 14 years ago when storm surge poured into her family’s home on the Biloxi River.

McKeithen, who was gunned down and died in front of the Biloxi police station on May 5, was one of four officers who rescued her family from Katrina, she said.

“I feel for his family. I want them to know if there’s anything in the world I can do for them, please let me know,” King said through tears.

“God sent those four officers to us that day,” she said. “I think Heaven must have needed a police officer and they chose the best.”

McKeithen, along with officers David Abbott, Bennie Hickman and Anthony Proctor, were awarded the Medal of Valor by the city for their actions.

“Without intervention these children would surely have perished,” the commendation said.

The terror

Five children were in the home at Eagle Point on Aug. 29, 2005. King said her three children, ages 3, 8 and 12, were huddled with them in a closet along with her sister’s children, ages 3 and 7. One of her children is disabled and unable to walk, she said.

They were in the closet because they thought a tornado was coming. But water from Katrina’s storm surge came instead.

“Our house started to take on too much water,” she said. She had seen police cruisers next door at the home of a Biloxi officer and went there for help.

“I swam over there and they swam right back with me,” she said.

As the water kept rising, each police officer took a kid, she said, and they trudged through floodwaters toward safety.

“This is in the middle of the hurricane,” she said. Debris was flying and water was rising.

The officers had to kick down the door of a neighbor’s house for shelter, she said, and when that house started taking on water, it sent them back out in the storm to yet another house on higher ground.

“They never, never left us,” she said.

McKeithen, with total disregard for his own life, was holding one of the kids and helping them through the chaos, she said.

“He was a good man,” she said of the Air Force veteran. Her family was crying, but she said, “He kept it together. He kept my kids calm and distracted.”

He and other police officers rescued other neighbors and those who had climbed into their attics during the storm, she said. One couple died at Eagle point.

King didn’t know where the McKeithen’s family was during Katrina.

“I just know he was there for us,” she said.

Hug around the neck

The King family never went back to their rental home. “Everything was gone,” she said. What was their house was just a frame.

After Katrina, she would run into McKeithen out in the community, King said.

“I would always hug his neck and tell him how thankful I was,” she said, and he was so happy to hear about the kids and know they were doing fine.

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Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.