JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- The man who was shot and killed by Ft. Knox Police after they said he tried to ram officers suffered from severe mental illness, his attorney said Monday.
With the permission of the man's family, attorney Larry Wilder identified the man during a news conference Monday morning as 41-year-old William J. Atkins, of Salem, who often went by "Billy." He said he owned his own business and was "the best concrete guy there ever was."
He also suffered from schizophrenia, Wilder said.
"Billy's condition and mental health situation was such that he functioned on a normal way and did his job," Wilder said. "There was just breaks that happened."
Wilder said one of those breaks occurred Saturday night, just before Fort Knox Media Relations Officer Kyle Hodges said officers shot the 41-year-old after he crashed through the gate and tried to ram into officers negotiating with him a short time later.
That's when officers opened fire, shooting Atkins. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Hodges said a motive is unknown, but there is no indication that the incident was extremist or terrorist-related.
Before the shooting, officers had responded to reports of a suspicious person near the Visitors Center, Hodges said. As officers were responding, the man drove his vehicle through the main gates, attempting to hit the patrol cars that pursued him.
At a news conference Monday morning, Wilder said Atkins' mental break started 30 minutes earlier, at 10:30 p.m., when he called his mother, told her he was the happiest he had ever been and that he was going to be marrying a woman his mother had never heard of.
Wilder said he also told her that he next had to talk to "The Boss" (whom she interpreted to be God) and "Clarence" (whom she interpreted to be a reference to the angel character near the end of the film, "It's a Wonderful Life").
Wilder said the military told them that Atkins showed up at Fort Knox at about 11 p.m. and asked for a visitor's pass but was denied.
"At that point, we know that there was a standoff of some kind," Wilder said.
Wilder said Atkins was unarmed and there were no weapons found in his vehicle. He said authorities said they were negotiating with Atkins for about 90 minutes before he started to back up his truck and leave.
"By leaving and backing his truck up, they interpreted that to be an event that justified lethal force," Wilder said. "He was shot — we believe — multiple times."
In fact, Wilder said he believes Atkins was shot as many as nine times or more. When pressed about the source of this information, Wilder said it's what government officials told Atkins' family. He added that it's not clear whether Atkins was fatally shot by military, or federal, state or local law enforcement.
"We don't know who fired the shots to kill this unarmed man suffering from a mental breakdown at the Fort Knox facility," Wilder said.
Wilder also expressed frustration with Fort Knox officials and what he described as a failure to disclose information. He said Atkins body has been taken to Fort Campbell for an autopsy.
"At this point in time, the family doesn't even know when we will receive Billy's remains back for a funeral and burial," he said.
Wilder said Atkins began suffering from mental health issues about three years ago and had been criminally charged with kidnapping, theft of a vehicle, robbery and intimidation with a weapon. Wilder said Atkins' mental issues played a significant role in that October 2020 incident in which he claimed to be acting on orders from God and had recently been communicating with his deceased grandfather.
According to Wilder, all key players in the court system — including himself, the prosecutor and judge — recognized that Atkins was suffering from mental health issues, but their hands were tied by a system that doesn't know how to help the mentally ill.
"In this system we were in, Billy Atkins' issues were not so much that he was a criminal ... but that he had a problem that we were trying to figure out how to help him with," he said.
Wilder said Atkins' family paid his full-cash bond after the October 2020 incident and he was ordered to receive treatment. According to Wilder, Atkins complied with all court-ordered treatment programs and showed up for all of his court dates.
"We were trying to do everything we could," Wilder said. "And I feel like I failed."
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