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Security guard who saved lives now struggles with PTSD

MCCOMB  — A week earlier, he had killed someone.

At first, he thought he was fine. After all, he was back on duty at the Social Security Administration office in McComb, having been cleared by three separate law enforcement agencies.

But massive headaches, extreme neck cramps and chronic insomnia would overshadow any notion of closure.

Now, the details of July 9 of last year play over and over again in his mind, like a video on a constant feedback loop.

A little over a year ago, Kipper Breckenridge walked into work and took a seat behind his desk.

The security officer, working under a division of the Department of Homeland Security, had been tasked with protecting the federal office in southwest Mississippi.

On most days for Breckenridge, that job consisted of de-escalating the occasional argument or making sure visitors filed through the office in an orderly manner.

This day, though, Breckenridge found himself on the front lines.

‘He stabbed them 11 or 12 times’

At about 11 a.m., three people walked through the office doors — a young man about 20 years old, a middle-aged woman and an older woman.

They would later be identified as 21-year-old Branen Carter; his mother, Lee Anna Turnage; and her mother and his grandmother, Ann Carter.

One of the three grabbed a ticket from the kiosk and then sat down next to the other two in the waiting room area. At one point, Branen got up from his seat and went to the restroom.

Soon after, what was a routine day took a turn.

Seconds after returning from the bathroom, Branen suddenly pulled out a folding knife. Without warning, he began stabbing his mother, then his grandmother.

It was brutal, and it was fast, Breckenridge recalled.

“It came out of nowhere. He started immediately stabbing them. He stabbed them 11 or 12 times. It was fast, really fast on both of them.”

Breckenridge, still seated behind his desk, first heard the screams. He said he scanned the waiting area and saw what he believed to be Branen swinging wildly at the two woman.

Breckenridge initially reached for his baton, but as he got closer he saw the silver reflection of a knife as Branen swung downward on his collapsed grandmother.

“That’s when I knew this situation was much more serious,” he said.

‘I didn’t want to kill him’

Breckenridge then positioned his hand on his 9mm Sig Sauer and approached Branen.

“He didn’t appear to notice or didn’t seem to care as I walked over to the waiting room. He was expressionless the whole time. He kept swinging the knife, stabbing them, nothing would stop him.”

Breckenridge aimed his weapon at Branen. A good Samaritan had picked up a chair in an attempt to stop the assault. His momentum had carried him into the line of fire.

Breckenridge paused a second, then pulled the trigger. He struck Branen with one shot in the torso, dropping him to the floor and ending the threat.

The McComb Social Security Office is next door to the city’s central fire station. An office worker ran over there after hearing the shot and several officials hustled over. First responders and emergency officials were quick on the scene. They took all three parties to the hospital.

Carter was pronounced dead at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center.

Turnage and Ann Carter were listed as in stable condition. Both survived.

It’s still unclear what provoked Branen that day.

His mother did not return requests for comment.

Despite the rampage, she has posted pictures of her son, including his gravesite, on her Facebook page.

Breckenridge said he did what he could to stop the assault with as little firepower as possible.

“I didn’t want to kill him. I didn’t,” Breckenridge said. “That’s why I shot him once in the torso.”

‘I did everything right. Why am I feeling this way?’

Breckenridge took less than a week off after the shooting. Looking back, it should have been much longer.

His initial thought was he didn’t have anything to worry about since he was cleared by three separate investigators. Each one — the McComb Police Department, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Protective Service — concluded he acted appropriately.

Internally, he felt the same way. His action saved the lives of at least two others. It’s impossible to know if Carter would have turned his attention elsewhere if he had not been stopped.

Several weeks later, though, the headaches came. Massive headaches that would strike at all hours of the day, at work or at home.

Soon after, he began to experience extreme neck cramps.

But even worse was the chronic insomnia. He said he would fall asleep for 10 to 15 minutes, then wake up. That would happen again and again through the night and into the morning. Sometimes, the scene of that fateful day would cycle through his mind on a constant loop.

He’d wake up, go through the motions, put on his uniform and return to the very place the shooting happened.

“I would get to work exhausted — before I had even started the day,” he said.

His interest in his family also was affected. Talking to his wife and engaging with his children was now a special chore. It was like someone had drained all the vitality from him. It even reached into his love life.

What he would learn later, when he sat down to talk with a therapist, is that he was exhibiting all the classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. And it all stemmed from the shooting.

But it confused him.

“I handled it fine at first. I was actually surprised the first week. I didn’t have any problems at that time,” he said.

“But about four weeks later, everything started going wrong. If I did everything right, why would I be suffering? Why am I suffering? That’s the part I just don’t understand,” he said.

‘Anytime you take a life, it’s something that’s going to affect you’

It’s not uncommon for law enforcement personnel to struggle with PTSD even after a lawful shoot. It’s something the general public is largely unfamiliar with, said Ken Winter, a longtime law enforcement official. Winter is now the director of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police.

“It doesn’t surprise me this person is experiencing that,” he said. “One of the things we’re finding now as more research is being done is we’re beginning to see that active-duty officers in shooting or serious death incidents are starting to develop residual PTSD,” he said.

“Anytime you take a life, it’s something that’s going to affect you even if it’s considered lawful. That’s part of being human, it sticks with you.”

Winter said the sufferer often relives the situation, which is sometimes triggered by visual cues, well after it has occurred.

It has happened to him in his experiences over the years. Stepping back, he explains:

“After the event happens, his mind keeps playing it over and over and over again. You can’t forget it. Certain things will trigger it. He may be laying in bed. You’ve got a lot of this stuff rolling around in your brain and it’ll come back on you.”

Getting counseling after a serious incident where a life is taken is mandatory for Mississippi law enforcement, Winter said.

Work, financial complications add to stress

Breckenridge has been outspoken since the symptoms kicked in. Adding to the stress is what he describes as having been abandoned by his company and union.

He still fears he will face retaliation for speaking up. But he has decided to make his experience public in hopes of putting into place measures to prevent others from dealing what he has.

His case is a little more complicated than most law enforcement agencies in the state. The company he was with during the shooting, Inner Parish Security Corp. out of Hammond, Louisiana, no longer has the contract with the federal government. He now works for California-based North American Security.

The transition between the two companies has put his medical care status in limbo. He is currently on workman’s compensation. His new diet of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and sleep medications is also dipping into his finances, adding to his stress.

Breckenridge said he has also struck out with his union who he said never returned his calls. He has taken the matter up with the National Labor Relations Board.

“I think that in cases like mine — if they happen again — there should be some kind of mandatory therapy sessions, say six sessions, and a mandatory amount of time taken off after an incident like this occurs,” he said.

“At this point, I feel like it would be one of the things that would make me feel like what I’m going through makes a little bit more sense.”

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