BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. – Geneva Wilkison said her son, Anthony Hodges, struggled with mental illness since the age of 14.
Unfortunately, Hodges’ fight came to an end Oct. 7 when he was shot by deputies after he opened fire on them with a rifle.
Wilkison said her son was upset and overwhelmed after being asked to be a pallbearer for a loved one’s funeral. She said she was able to calm him down on Oct. 6.
“He said, ‘Goodnight, Mama. I love you,’” Wilkison said.
But the next morning, he was once again agitated and in possession of a gun legally purchased by his girlfriend.
“When I found that out, my heart was just beating,” Wilkison said.
Wilkison called the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office, and that authorities tried to calm her son down.
“He said, ‘Buddy, we’re just trying to talk to you. Just come out and talk. You haven’t done anything wrong.
We just want to talk to you.’ The next thing I know, he comes out with an assault rifle,” Wilkison said.
“That’s when I heard shots fired.”
Wilkison said she saw her son fall.
“I ran right out my door,” Wilkison said. “Nobody could have stopped me. I was getting to my son. And I had my hand on his forehead and I said, ‘Son, please stay with me.’ And I seen him take a deep breath.”
It’s a mother’s agony filled with painful reminders by the hour.
Wilkison was asked what goes through her mind when she looks out her window and sees the flowers placed at the spot her son took his last breath.
“That he is not going to call me,” Wilkison said. “That he is gone. And I really just want him to come back. But I know that’s not going to happen.”
Wilkison said she doesn’t blame the Sheriff’s Office. She said her son battled mental illness for years and deputies did what they’re trained to do.
Brad Smith, Bradford County undersheriff, said the Florida Sheriffs Association spends $800,000 a year to train deputies on how to deal with crisis situations when it comes to mental health issues.
“There are de-escalation techniques, there are verbal/nonverbal communication techniques that are deployed trying to diffuse the situation,” Smith said. “De-escalate any type of aggressive behavior or attitudes being shown and get some sort of calm over the overall situation so you can deal with the specific and broader issues at hand.”
Wilkison said the spot her son died triggers heartbreak, but also brings her comfort.
“Even though my son died right there, that was the last place I touched him, talked to him,” Wilkison said.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating how and why Hodges was able to get his hands on the gun. The case will be sent to the State Attorney’s Office once the investigation is complete.