Local hero McKeehan remembered even now

Published 12:17 pm Friday, May 27, 2022

Contributed by Nancy Ensor
Since statistics started being compiled in 1786, more than 22,000 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty. In Carter County, there is a particular man who left a strong impact on the lives of those who knew him or learned of his story, and who were remembered fondly by many this recent Peace Officers Memorial Day, on May 15.
Todd Wayne McKeehan was only 28 when he died as a Special Agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) near Waco, Texas, along with three of his fellow agents. Many residents in Elizabethton recall watching as events unfolded on national television back on February 28, 1993, when the ATF had a fatal confrontation with the David Koresh Branch Davidian group at the sect’s compound. But as tragic and dramatic as that was, it was Todd’s approach to life that makes him so memorable.

The son of Tony and Jane McKeehan, Todd grew up with a big sister and two younger brothers (Tonya, Brad, and Wade) in the Central community. He was one of those kids who stood out in the minds of his teachers, fellow church members, and neighbors as someone who was funny, kind, smart, and polite, although one trait was noticeable from an early age that set him apart: Todd was a protector. Whether it was during playtime as a child when he insisted on being the “good guy”, or as a lifeguard at the Franklin Pool during summer breaks from school, the young man had an innate sense of responsibility toward others.
In college, Todd completed an internship with the U.S. Marshal Service. He worked at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department as well, before being called to duty for Operation Desert Shield in 1990 as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Although the hats he wore through the years varied, he always chose the ones that marked him as a patriot and protector.

It has been nearly three decades since Todd was killed, but memories of him abound throughout the region, and beyond. At Elizabethton High School, his alma mater, Todd’s photo graces the Commons Area’s Memory Wall and many students continue to wear “Live Like Todd” bracelets. In 2018, the community held a celebration of Todd’s life at EHS on the 25th anniversary of the Waco incident, with many former area residents coming back to Northeast Tennessee to attend, some even flying in from Alaska. At that event, local leaders presented a proclamation citing February 28 in Carter County as “Todd McKeehan Day”. In 1993, the year Todd died in the line of duty, the Tennessee House passed Joint Resolution 242 which designated a bridge on U.S. Highway 321 over Sparks Road on his behalf. The large green sign denoting the “Special Agent ATF Sgt. Todd Wayne McKeehan Memorial Bridge” is seen by thousands daily as they travel.
And at Happy Valley Memorial Park where he was laid to rest, it is obvious that Todd is not forgotten: various tokens of love and remembrance are often left on his gravestone.

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As May 15 was acknowledged nationally as Peace Officers Memorial Day and ceremonies for it were held throughout East Tennessee, it recognized those who gave the ultimate sacrifice through their chosen vocation as officers with federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement. While all those who lost their lives in service as peace officers deserve honor and a place in our memories, the marks Todd McKeehan left are still obvious in his home area, and beyond. As anyone who knew Todd personally would tell you, his life made him unforgettable.