Friend says alleged Bristol gunman battling a mental illness, military history revealed

BRISTOL, TN (WJHL) – The suspected gunman charged with killing one person and injuring three others when he opened fire in Bristol, Tennessee last week was good enough with an automatic rifle to hit more than half of his targets while in basic training, according to his military records.

A close family friend says Lakeem Keon Scott was not motivated by racial tensions when he opened fire along Volunteer Parkway last week, killing one person and injuring three others. Instead, Lacey Francis says the alleged shooting spree was the likely result of her friend’s ongoing battle with mental illness.

“No matter how much people want to say this was racially fueled, it was not,” Francis said. “It has to do with the reality that mental health is something we don’t want to talk about. Do I think he went out there with hate in his heart to kill somebody? No. Do I think he went out there hoping for a suicide by cop? Absolutely.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has said preliminary information suggests Scott may have targeted people and police after being troubled by recent incidents involving African-Americans and law enforcement officers in other parts of the country. Today, when asked if there was any more indication about a possible motive, a TBI spokesperson said, “Not that we can comment on publicly.”

Francis says she first struck up a friendship with Scott in 2013 when he used to visit her at the convenience store where she worked. Francis says she’s also close with his sister. In fact, his sister gave Francis her blessing to talk to us.

She says Scott is not the man the public thinks he is. The Bristol woman says Scott, who is originally from New York, had a tough upbringing.

“I do know that he did suffer from PTSD,” she said. “When he was younger in New York he was homeless. He would go to garbage cans to get food for his family.”

Francis says Scott’s mental struggles continued when he moved to Tennessee. Francis says she’s not condoning his alleged behavior or making excuses for him. Instead, she says she just wants people to know why he may have acted the way he did last Thursday.

“I understand what he did was awful and I am so sorry to the family of the victims,” she said. “I am so sorry. With mental disorder and defect it is something that is very real. It is uncontrollable.”

A Sullivan County grand jury indicted Lakeem Keon Scott on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and using a gun to commit a serious crime earlier this week. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Scott was armed with at least two weapons, a semi-automatic-style rifle and a pistol, when he started firing shots early Thursday morning along Volunteer Parkway.

This is a photo of Lakeem Keon Scott. In a news release Friday, TBI said 37-year-old Lakeem Keon Scott “acted alone” and was armed with at least two weapons when he randomly shot at people in Bristol, Tenn. early Thursday morning. (Source: Facebook)
This is a photo of Lakeem Keon Scott. In a news release Friday, TBI said 37-year-old Lakeem Keon Scott “acted alone” and was armed with at least two weapons when he randomly shot at people in Bristol, Tenn. early Thursday morning. (Source: Facebook)

 

Scott served in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard for almost three years in the mid to late 90s. His military records, obtained by News Channel 11 through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal he earned his marksman badge for qualifying with an automatic rifle. According to Army records, that means he successfully hit more than half of his targets during qualifying, by no means a so-called sharpshooter or expert.

Scott served active duty twice during his service, but never advanced past the rank of private, according to his file. The Army discharged Scott while he was serving in Korea in 1999, according to his file. He was stationed there for 14 months.

The Army would not release the kind of discharge, because discharge status is protected by the Privacy Act, according to a spokesperson.

In addition to his marksman badge, Scott earned ribbons for Army and overseas service.

All of Scott’s service came while he was living in New York. One thing the records do not reveal anything about is Scott’s mental state.

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