What began as a family’s call to police for help in calming a schizophrenic teenager armed with a screwdriver and a mouthful of threats ended with police gunfire and heartache.
The killing of Keith Vidal, 18, of Boling Springs Lakes, NC, over the weekend has spurred a state investigation into the teen’s death and a family’s call for answers as they say police shot Vidal in cold blood.
Family of Vidal said they called police on Sunday afternoon to help subdue the 90-pound teen who was holding a small screwdriver and threatening to fight his mother during a schizophrenic episode. Two officers responded to the family’s home and restrained Vidal. Then, a third officer arrived and soon thereafter reportedly shot Vidal, Mark Wilsey, Vidal’s step-father, told reporters during a press-conference on Monday.
According to Wilsey, as the first two officers were restraining Vidal, the third officer walked into the family’s house and said “I don’t have time for this. Tase him. Let’s get him out of here,” Wilsey said. At that point, one of the officers used a stun gun on Vidal. The young man hit the ground and “this guy shot him,” Wilsey said.
Vidal was taken to a local hospital where he was declared dead.
When Wilsey asked why the officer had shot the teen, he said the officer replied, “Well, I’m protecting my officers.”
“He reached right up, shot this kid point-blank, with all intent to kill,” Wilsey said. “Keith was not threatening anybody, Keith did not want any part of it. He was having a bad day,” Wilsey said. “He was flat out murdered, there was no need for deadly force. No reason.”
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the killing, standard practice in police-involved shootings, and prosecutors have vowed to seek the truth of the matter “wherever the truth leads.”
“The public deserves to have a process put in place that will lead to the most just resolution,” Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David said.
One of the three officers involved in the shooting, Detective Byron Vassey, a nine-year veteran with the Southport police department, has been placed on administrative leave, according to Chief Jerry Dove, who spoke during a press conference with prosecutors on Monday. Dove would not say whether or not Vassey was the officer who pulled the trigger in the boy’s death.
Officers from two other agencies, the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office and the Boiling Spring Lakes Police Department, were on the scene at the time of Vidal’s killing. But Vassey so far is the only officer to be placed on leave.
Vidal’s family was not invited to Monday’s press conference, but they showed up nonetheless, with placards adorned with the teen’s face, photos that gave no indication of his troubles and struggles with mental illness.
In one of the placards, Vidal is seen in a selfie, holding a cell phone in front of a mirror with the word “why,” printed in big black letters over his left shoulder.
“Why, why did this child have to die?” said Mary Wilsey, Vidal’s mother, holding a photo of the teen hugging someone in a large, furry Gumby costume. “We want justice for my son’s death. This officer who shot my son needs to be behind bars, he needs to die the way my son died.”
A family friend, Anthony Owens, told the Star News that he hopes the officer who killed Vidal “lies in bed at night and cries like we have to.”
Vidal’s death comes just weeks after his 18th birthday, on a Sunday afternoon that by all accounts had gone off without much ado. But soon that would all change. The cops had come to the home before, family members told the Star News. Vidal was schizophrenic and depressive, they said. But he was never violent. The cops would usually come and talk with him until he calmed down.
On this day Vidal was sweeping the floor, holding a screw driver. At some point he threatened to fight his mother. At 12:31 p.m., according to records, Mark Wilsey called 911.
“We wanted him to put the screwdriver down because he does have schizophrenia and we didn’t know if he was gonna hurt himself,” Wilsey told the Star News.
The first officers arrived on the scene at 12:34. Less than 15 minutes later, Vidal had been shot, killed just seconds after the Vassey arrived on the scene. There remain more questions than answers in the teen’s death. And as investigators, prosecutors, and the teen’s family try to unpack just why a stun gun and eventually lethal force was needed to subdue a 90-pound teenager with no apparent history of violence, the business of mourning goes on.
An aunt of Vidal’s who was reached by telephone by MSNBC on Tuesday morning said the family was grieving, and that their focus is on answers but also on burying Vidal.
“We need to address Keith and take care of those arrangements,” the woman said just above a whisper. “We just ask, please, don’t let this happen again.”