Monday, September 9, 2019

Wannabe Kidnappers Routed
Written by Robert A. Waters

On November 8, 2017, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement: “Four teens armed with a knife, guns and a roll of tape planned to kidnap and rob members of a Baker family last night, but their plot didn’t go as planned and now all four are in custody.  Inside their SUV deputies also found latex gloves, facial masks and dark clothing.”

The town of Baker, with a population of around 7,000, sits near the edge of Florida’s Panhandle.  Located between the Blackwater River and the Yellow River, the area offers a natural environment for those who favor country-style living.  Terry Brackney resided near Baker with his 17-year-old daughter, Amber.  The 51-year-old father owned a funeral home and clothing store in Crestview, ten miles away.

At 10:30 P.M. on November 7, Amber drove home from her job at a local restaurant.  As she pulled up to the gated entrance to her home, her headlights shone on four 55-gallon drum barrels that blocked the road.  Immediately suspicious, Amber used her cell phone to inform her father.

Terry told her to drive around the barrels and Amber did just that.

When she arrived home, she briefly discussed the incident with her father, then went to bed.

The sheriff’s statement described what happened next: “A short time later [Terry] heard his dogs barking and saw his motion-activated flood lights come on.  After spotting some individuals trying to force their way into his garage, he fired three shots and the intruders fled into the woods.  He later learned they had unscrewed some of his security lights.”

Terry quickly called 9-1-1 and alerted the sheriff’s office.

While interviewing nearby homeowners, detectives got a break.  A neighbor had seen a suspicious vehicle near her house.  She described it as a white 2016 Jeep Liberty.  Deputies spotted the SUV on Highway 4 and made a felony traffic stop.

They arrested Keilon Johnson, 19, Austin French, 17, Tyree Johnson, 16, and Kamauri Horn, 15.  While none of the suspects had been struck by Terry’s gunfire, they were so terrified that they all quickly confessed to a sinister plot.

Keilon Johnson, the oldest suspect, set the plan in motion.  All the teens attended Crestview High School with Amber and knew her.  Keilon had studied her movements and knew she returned home from work every night at the same time. 

Keilon convinced his cohorts that her father was wealthy and kept lots of money in the home.  They came up with a plan to rob the house.  When she came home after work, the gang planned to “make Amber Brackney exit [her] vehicle at the barricade where she would be taken by force, made to enter the gate code to enter the curtilage and coerce Terry Brackney to exit the residence.  Terry would then be subdued by chemicals and/or force and the defendants would then enter the home and commit the robbery.”

What went without saying is that, even wearing masks, there was a good chance the conspirators would be recognized.  In fact, Amber had once been close friends with at least one of the suspects and could easily identify his voice and mannerisms.  Because of that, had their plan succeeded, there was a good possibility the suspects would have murdered Terry and Amber to keep them quiet.

As the attempted robbery played itself out that night, Ervin Johnson drove the getaway vehicle and communicated with Kielon Johnson by cell phone.  Once Amber foiled their plan by driving around the barricade, Kielon called Ervin and told him they were going “straight for the house.”  Austin French was armed with a knife, while Keilon and Kamurai Horn had pistols.

As they began to unscrew the lights, their plan went awry.  The dogs began barking and Terry came out of the house with his semiautomatic handgun.  When he opened fire, the suspects panicked and fled into the dense woods surrounding the house.  While making their escape, they dropped one of the firearms, the knife, and other identifying items.

The conspirators, each charged as adults, pleaded guilty to attempted armed kidnapping and attempted home invasion.  Horn received 15 years in prison.  Ervin Johnson was sentenced to seven years, followed by fifteen years of probation.  Keilon Johnson has not yet been sentenced but faces up to 45 years in prison, while Austin French is also looking at a possible 45 years.

Terry and Amber Brackney appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to discuss the crime and its aftermath.

“I’ve searched and I’ve prayed for peace of mind over this situation and to get my sense of security back in my home,” Terry said.  “Had these individuals made it inside our house…today would have probably been our funerals.”

“I’m really grateful for my dad,” Amber said.  “I really don’t have a mom in my life, so my dad is my hero…I saw these kids every day walking down the hallway [in my school].  I never expected them to try to kidnap me and harm me and do such a thing to my family.”

Since I started my blog in 2008, I’ve written hundreds of stories about Americans who used guns to defend their own lives, or the lives of others.  (Check out my latest book, co-written with Sim Waters, entitled Guns andSelf-Defense: 23 Inspirational True Crime Stories of Survival with Firearms.) 

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