PETAL, Miss. (WDAM) - Officials with the Petal Police Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released more details Tuesday on a series of events that put the Friendly City on edge late last week.
Petal Police Chief Matthew Hiatt said 22-year-old Patsy Victorius Delvecchio III was taken into custody Saturday following reports of a suspicious person at the Walmart near Evelyn Gandy Parkway. To add to the tension, Hiatt said posts circulating on social media falsely claimed there was an active shooter situation in the city.
Hiatt and Mayor Hal Marx said Petal police worked quickly and effectively to ensure the city was and continues to be safe.
Around 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 16, Hiatt said Petal police received the initial report of an armed man acting suspiciously at Walmart.
According to reports from concerned citizens and Walmart employees, the man was carrying a handgun in his waistband and purchased ammunition from the store. After buying the rounds, the man reportedly sat outside in his vehicle for around 15 minutes, prompting the calls to police.
Hiatt said Delvecchio was leaving Walmart when the first officers arrived, so the officers initiated a traffic stop to speak with Delvecchio.
In addition to the pistol Delvecchio had in his waistband, Hiatt said an “AR-style weapon,” around 500 rounds of ammunition, 10 “AR-loaded magazines” and a notebook that said “buy more ammo” were found inside Delvecchio’s vehicle.
Hiatt said Delvecchio was not violating any laws by possessing the guns, so officers took his information, documented what they saw and sent Delvecchio on his way.
Investigators then returned to Walmart to interview employees and sort through surveillance footage of the reported suspicious activity. According to Hiatt, video showed an armed Delvecchio taking what the police chief called an “aggressive stance” while facing the front entrance of the store.
An employee reported to police that he was approached by Delvecchio and caught a glimpse of the pistol in his waistband. The employee said when he looked back up, Delvecchio was smirking at him.
Hiatt said the employee reported he was frightened when Delvecchio asked if the store had a tire center, so the employee quickly walked away and reported the suspicious activity to store management.
After seeing the surveillance video and interviewing witnesses, Hiatt said investigators made the decision to take Delvecchio into custody for questioning.
Officers were preparing to confront Delvecchio around 11 a.m. Saturday when he was spotted driving west on Evelyn Gandy Parkway near Walmart. Hiatt said officers stopped Delvecchio on U.S. Highway 11and took him into custody. At that point, local authorities contacted the ATF, and Resident Agent in Charge Jason Denham was sent to the Petal Police Department.
Hiatt said after being interviewed by Petal police investigators and ATF agents, Delvecchio was taken to a mental health facility for evaluation. Authorities later placed a 72-hour hold on Delvecchio to continue the evaluation.
On Monday, Hiatt said Delvecchio was examined by a local mental health professional, who determined Delvecchio would need to be evaluated by two additional psychiatrists. Denham said they’re hoping the examination process will be completed sometime this week, and Delvecchio will remain in custody for the time being.
According to Denham, Delvecchio is not facing any criminal charges at this time, and any legal action will be considered after Delvecchio’s mental evaluation is complete.
Hiatt added that Delvecchio was a member of the armed forces but is no longer listed as an active duty member of the military. The chief said the reason for Delvecchio’s discharge is part of the police investigation.
Hiatt also said it appears whatever Delvecchio’s intentions were, he was acting alone.
Mississippi allows for the open carrying of firearms in public without a permit or license, but state law prohibits displaying a weapon in a rude, angry or threatening manner in the presence of three or more persons.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Hiatt said while he personally supports the 2nd Amendment and Mississippi open carry laws, he also understands how certain situations could make some people uneasy in light of recent mass shootings in public places.
“This kind of behavior will not be tolerated whatsoever,” said Hiatt. “The city, the country is at an alerted state of awareness to what’s going on, so when these things happen, we’re going to respond, and we’re going to address the situation accordingly.”
Marx also shared some advice for anyone considering open carrying in a place that could make others uncomfortable.
“I support peoples’ right to bear arms. It’s an important right that we have protected by the constitution,” said Marx. “However, with that right to carry a weapon also comes responsibility on how you comport yourself, how you carry yourself in public. And like Chief Hiatt said, in this heightened time of fear and awareness of these shootings happening, I would just advise people to please be careful how you carry yourself. If you are going to open carry, please do it in a way that people understand you are not a threat. Now might not be the best time to exercise your right.”
Hiatt said he believes the actions of concerned citizens, Walmart employees and his police officers likely saved lives Friday. The chief said the weapons found in Delvecchio’s vehicle could have been part of a tragic event had they been used.
“I would hate to think. I would hate to know. Thank the Lord we don’t have to find that out this time,” said Hiatt.