Friends and loved ones of a Maine native serving in the Air Force are preparing to say goodbye to the 23-year-old, who was fatally shot last week when he tried to stop an armed robbery in Arkansas.
The body of Shawn McKeough Jr. returned to his home state on Thursday, escorted by a procession and saluted from roadsides as he made his final journey home, WMTW reports.
John Cox, who spent nearly a year deployed with the 23-year-old from Westbrook, told the station that while he was shocked to learn of his friend’s death, he was not surprised that McKeough was standing up for others.
“It’s tragic for a person to serve their country and go to a place like we have been together and have to serve a different battle at home,” Cox said.
McKeough and his girlfriend, Sarah Terrano, were celebrating their anniversary with friends when they stopped at a gas station convenience store in North Little Rock, Arkansas, the evening of March 15, the Portland Press Herald reports. The couple, both natives of Westbrook, were living in the area since McKeough was a senior airman stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base, after serving deployments in Germany, Kuwait, and South Korea.
McKeough went into the store along with two friends while Terrano stayed in the Uber, she told News Center Maine. A few moments later two people wearing masks ran into the store and she said she realized they were robbing the store when she saw them waving guns at the cashier and at the customers crouching low inside.
She told the station she couldn’t see her boyfriend.
“I knew right then, I was like, ‘If he turns around and sees them pointing that gun, he’s going to do something,'” Terrano said. “I just thought, ‘Please no… Don’t do anything.'”
According to court documents obtained by the Press Herald, McKeough attempted to tackle one of the men holding up the store and was shot in face by the other robber. The two men then fled the store.
On Mar 15 @ 11:38pm 2 armed subjects entered the Valero Big Red gas station(601 W. Broadway)& fatally shot a customer during the robbery. A $10,000 reward is offered for info leading to the arrest & conviction of those responsible. Call 501-771-7167 or our tip line @ 501-680-8439 pic.twitter.com/RKFjAsmCuq
— North Little Rock PD (@NLRPD) March 16, 2019
Police have arrested and charged four people in connection with the robbery and McKeough’s death. Darrius Stewart, 17, and Keith Keshawn Harris, 16, are both charged with capital murder and aggravated robbery, according to North Little Rock police. They are being charged as adults. Two others, 18-year-old Drequan Robinson and 18-year-old Keith Harris, are also facing charges of capital murder and aggravated murder and have pleaded not guilty.
As news of his death spread, messages of love and tributes to McKeough’s character have flooded his Facebook page.
Kristen Mononoke wrote on his page that she met him in middle school and they became best friends. She recalled how he stood up for her when she was bullied by other classmates.
“I’m so so sorry that this happened, the world is such a dark place but Shawn’s light will NEVER burn out and we are all so lucky to bask in it,” she said.
“You loved our family like it was your own, and we love you like you were our own,” Todd Kent wrote. “It didn’t matter how long we went without seeing each other, we would pick up like it was yesterday. Thank you for the time we spent. Thanks for always having our backs. Continue to watch out for us.”
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and Maine Sen. Susan Collins also released statements recognizing McKeough’s dedication to helping others.
Senior Airman Shawn McKeough Jr. from Westbook lost his life protecting the lives of innocent people. Maine is incredibly proud of his selfless act of bravery and for his dedicated service to our country as a member of the Air Force. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) March 21, 2019
Called by duty, Shawn McKeough Jr. lost his life doing exactly what he volunteered and trained to do: protecting his fellow citizens from danger. We mourn his death and grieve with his family, yet we also celebrate his life, his courage, and his service. https://t.co/Tn0oW4DDwc
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) March 19, 2019
Lisa Marie Hebert, McKeough’s mother, told the Press Herald her family has been overwhelmed by all the support from the Westbrook community and those who knew her son.
“It was typical of Shawn to come to someone’s defense,” she told the newspaper. “That’s who he was.”
Terrano told News Center Maine she wants the 23-year-old to be remembered for his ability to make people smile and his love for his country and family.
“I don’t want people thinking it was just another person, because it’s not,” she said. “He was so strong and brave, and I know he would do it again.”
Memorial and funeral services for McKeough are still being finalized.