Mark and Mary Wilsey phoned 911 when they were afraid their son’s schizophrenic episode might lead him to hurt himself; one of the responding officers shot him.
Keith Vidal weighed just 90 pounds. He turned 18 on December 10, 2013, a few weeks before he was killed. Neighbors and friends from South Brunswick High School, where he was a senior, describe Vidal as a gentle boy. He was taking medication for schizophrenia and depression and had never exhibited violent tendencies. He liked outdoors pursuits and wanted to be a drummer when he grew up, something a seemingly errant cop would make impossible.
On Sunday, January 4, 2014, he wasn’t doing well. One report says that he was sweeping the kitchen at the family’s house at 1130 President Drive in Boiling Spring lakes, North Carolina, when he threatened his mother. Another account suggests he wasn’t cooperating with his father’s attempts to get him into the car to get to mental health evaluation. At the time, he carried what his family describes as a “small” screwdriver.
First to arrive, at 12:34, was Boiling Spring Lakes Police Department officer John Thomas. He had met the boy on a prior call to the house. The family has since praised his patience in helping Vidal on both occasions. Two more Boiling Spring Lakes officers and a Brunswick County Sheriff’s Deputy arrived shortly thereafter; the family has also commended the deputy’s professionalism. These respondents succeeded in calming the boy down. Thomas, who had gently told Vidal that he wouldn’t leave until he talked to him, reported to dispatchers that there had been a confrontation in hallway but that they had resolved it and everything was fine.
At 12:48, Southport Police Department unit 104 arrived. 70 seconds later, a Southport officer told dispatch that he’d had to fire shots to defend himself. As the family tells it, this last officer’s arrival had agitated Vidal anew. The officer ordered the officers already on the scene to stop talking and told them to hold the boy down. When the boy tried to flee to the bathroom, they tased him. The Wilseys say the shooter then announced, “We don’t have time for this”—and shot their son in the chest.
The Southport officer had to shoot around the officers holding the boy down, and Mark Wilsey, who says that when Thomas stood up, Thomas had to look down to make sure he hadn’t been shot in the chest himself.
The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident, as it does for all officer-related shootings in North Carolina. Within hours, Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David was on scene in this effort.
Southport Police Department Detective Bryon Vassey, a 9-year veteran, is on paid administrative leave. His department won’t confirm or deny whether he shot Vidal.
The DA’s office held a press conference on Monday, January 6, 2014. The family and supporters attended with placards condemning the shooting. Expect this story to draw further attention in controversies over police behavior and accountability and the treatment of the mentally ill.