LOBELVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Police found a store of firearms Thursday at the home of a 15-year-old boy charged with shooting a longtime member of the National Guard at a Tennessee armory as investigators explored possible motives, an official said.
“Several” weapons were uncovered in the search, said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine, and ballistic experts examined whether any were involved in Wednesday’s shooting in the rural community of Lobelville, about 50 miles southwest of Nashville.
DeVine said agents were looking into “all leads” to piece together the “circumstances … and the motivation for the crime.” But the analyses of the weapons found at the teen’s house suggested the suspect did not use a gun seized at the armory.
The suspect didn’t work at the armory, which is usually locked, but somehow gained access to the building and fired several shots, authorities said. One struck Sgt. 1st Class Michael W. Braden, 45, who had been with the guard for more than 20 years and served two tours in Kuwait, law enforcement and Guard officials said. He died later at a hospital.
Maj. Gen. Terry “Max” Haston, who oversees the state’s National Guard, said no extra security protocols were planned, but sent out a directive “to enforce the police that they have right now.”
“It’s always a tragedy when we lose a soldier under any conditions, but to lose one like this is heart wrenching,” said Haston.
The teenager, who was expelled from high school for drug offenses, was being held without bond at a juvenile detention facility, DeVine said. He could, however, be tried as an adult if the case is shifted from the juvenile system. The suspect was arrested without incident at his family’s home in Lobelville, set amid rolling hills and woodlands.
It was unclear whether the suspect and victim knew each other. But Braden, a father of three children, had wide contacts in the area because of outreach with local inmates assigned to help clean the armory as part of a program led by the Perry County Sheriff’s Department.
A sheriff’s department K-9 officer, Rodd Staid, said Braden often supervised the prisoners on the cleaning detail and would try to find them jobs or encourage them to consider military service after their release from custody.
“Excellent guy who would do anything to help anybody,” said Staid. “It’s a tragedy. We lost a good man.”
DeVine said the building doesn’t have surveillance cameras, but at least one other person in addition to the shooter and the victim was at the armory at the time of the shooting. But DeVine said it was unclear whether there were any eyewitnesses.
Willodean Kilpatrick, a neighbor of the suspect, said the boy lived with his aunt and arrived about a year ago from Louisiana. She said she would sometimes exchange pleasantries with the boy as he passed and described him as “quiet.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam issued a statement Thursday lamenting Braden’s death.
“It’s a tragic day when we lose a decorated hero who has served his country so well,” Haslam said.
The shooting was the second at a Tennessee National Guard armory in nine months. A Guard recruiter, Amos Patton, has been charged with trying to kill four of his superiors when he opened fire at an armory in Millington in October. Four Guardsmen were injured. At the time, the Guard said security measures were followed correctly.