Patrol Officer Robert McKeithen knew how to talk to people.
“He was a very gentle man, very gentle and likeable,” a grieving police chief, John Miller, told the media at a news conference called after McKeithen, 57, was gunned down Sunday night in the parking lot at the Biloxi Lopez Quave Public Safety Center.
Miller and the rest of the department were in shock Monday morning. McKeithen was set to retire at year’s end after 24 years of service. He had served in the Air Force before joining the Biloxi police reserves for three years, then becoming a sworn officer in 1995.
McKeithen also was a husband and father to one daughter, two stepsons and a stepdaughter.
He was shot near his patrol SUV, which sat in the parking lot with a bouquet of red carnations on the hood. Miller also placed a card from the department under the windshield wiper.
McKeithen’s shooting was all the more baffling because his fellow officers said he always knew how to keep distraught victims on track when trying to gather details for an investigation. And he knew how to talk with suspects so they would cooperate.
“I can’t remember any time he had a significant use of force where he couldn’t talk someone into seeing things his way,” said Sgt. Jay Morgan, who trained under McKeithen and worked with him.
Morgan said McKeithen lived in Woolmarket. McKeithen knew all the roads in that community, dirt or paved, and many of the people. His favorite hangout was the Waffle House on Cedar Lake Road.
Fellow officers said he often had a cigarette in one hand and a coffee in the other.
After Hurricane Katrina, McKeithen was one of 13 officers awarded the Biloxi Police Department Medal of Valor. He helped rescue three families, including a child with special needs, from a flooded home in Eagle Point, Miller said.
He always preferred to work the night shift.
His military background stayed with him, said Capt. Milton Houseman, who, like McKeithen, served in the Air Force. While most officers, including Houseman, wear black sneakers these days, McKeithen stuck with his spit-shined black military combat boots.
When he was working, his Medal of Honor was always penned to his uniform.
McKeithen stayed away from social media and was known as technology-averse.
“He caught a lot of the old man jokes,” Houseman said, “the paw paw jokes, but he always had a sense of humor about it.”
Houseman remembers a call McKeithen went on about 10 years ago. He was responding to a domestic disturbance. The man had a knife, but McKeithen was able to talk him into putting it down.
Houseman said, “He could usually talk people down.”
How to help
An account has been set up for the family of fallen Biloxi Police Officer Robert McKeithen. The police department says this is the only legitimate account they know about. No donations are being solicited by phone, Biloxi police say.
To donate, call Southern Coastal Credit Union, 228-432-0284, or drop by the office at 1042 Howard Ave., Biloxi, Mississippi, or 10383 Automall Parkway in D’iberville. Donations also can be mailed to the credit union at P.O. Box 503, Biloxi, MS 39530.
— Biloxi Police Department