Navy veteran killed by assault after a Biloxi concert 'lifted people up'
By ROBIN FITZGERALD | The Sun Herald | Published: December 8, 2018
BILOXI, Miss. (Tribune News Service) — Former Seabee Brad Helsel died for being a good Samaritan.
He was leaving a concert at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum when he saw a fight and did what came naturally to the lover of peace and country.
The Waveland man and Mansfield, Ohio, native, tried to break up a fight as a crowd was leaving the concert from the Coliseum's south west parking lot on Dec. 3. He was assaulted and died the next day.
He had attended the concert with his wife, their son Caleb, and a cousin named Gary Simoneaux to hear two bands. The headliner, Five Finger Death Punch, is known by the video and song "Wrong Side of Heaven," which focuses on the plight of returning military veterans and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Helsel and at least one other man tried to break up the fight, said Kaitlyn Quinn, who says she called 911 after her husband Kyle also "jumped out to pull the guys fighting apart."
Helsel's good Samaritan effort was rewarded with "a sucker punch," witnesses say, by a suspect police are trying to identity through video surveillance pictures. Investigators are asking anyone who videotaped the incident or the suspects on their cellphone to contact them.
Helsel was assaulted about 11:30 p.m. He died of blunt force trauma, Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove announced Dec. 6. He was 48.
The concert, sponsored by Gulfport radio station 97.9 CPR Rocks, featured FFDP, a heavy-metal band that supports love of veterans and country, and Breaking Benjamin, a rock band from Las Vegas.
Helsel served in the U.S. Navy for eight years, with assignments taking him to Panama and Hawaii, and had spent 20 years working for Exxon Mobil Corp. He worked off-shore and was home every other weekend.
Helsel and his wife Angie loved to go to concerts, said his sister-in-law, Kellie Gunn.
"It was the one thing they spent money on for themselves."
After retirement from the Navy, Helsel made the most of working off-shore and being home every other weekend, his family said. His home was often filled with family and friends who spent time playing cards, horseshoes, volleyball and other outdoor activities.
Though he was admittedly a Yankee by birth, he took pride in calling himself a Coastian. He had become adept a throwing a good shrimp boil, crawfish boil or crab boil and was a master griller and multi-tasker.
"He could ring a horseshoe, get a straight flush and cook a steak to perfection at the same time," said Gunn, speaking on behalf of Helsels' wife. "He was the center of a huge hodgepodge of family and friends."
He also loved the family pet, a pig named Hamlet who often provided entertainment for guests, and he rooted for the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints.
Survivors include his daughters Gabriel and Ariane, son Caleb and grandson Silas.
One of his children's favorite photos is one of Brad with his wife on his shoulders at a concert.
"This photograph epitomized who Brad was," Gunn said. "He lifted people up. The picture also shows another part of Brad: His complete and undeniable love for his best friend, his wife."
The couple met while Helsel was stationed at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport.
The love between Helsel and his wife is one of the fondest memories Ariane will carry with her. He "set the bar high," showing her what love was supposed to look like, she said
His son Caleb, with whom he shared a passion for music, said his father "was the kind of man that just knew what you needed in that moment whether it be a shoulder to cry on or joke to make you smile. He was the kind of man I can only hope to one day become."
He taught 'how to love'
Helsel's daughter Gabriele is the mother of his beloved young grandson. Helsel "never missed an opportunity to share an experience with Silas," she said.
Gabriele said her father taught her what it means to be a parent, and "how to love someone so unconditionally that nothing can break that bond."
Helsel was a surrogate father to his nephew, Gavin Simoneaux, whose parents were killed when Simoneaux was 16.
"Brad took me in without any hesitation," said Simoneaux, who lived with Helsel for three years.
"He made sure to keep me strong after the death of my parents," Simoneaux said.
"He pushed me to graduate and become a merchant marine. He acted as my father figure and stepped up during the worst time in life. Words can never cover everything he has done not only for me, but for everyone else."
Family members said Helsel was a person you could always count on.
"He was that person you could sit down and have those talks about life with because he knew how to sit and listen," Gunn said. "He knew how to hear you without judging you."
Numerous friends have posted comments on Facebook from the Sun Herald's initial report of the assault. Several called him "a good man."
"His family has gifts under the tree for him that will sit in their face daily now and remind them of the man who is NOT coming home," Katie Breaux posted.
Anyone who can help identify two suspects shown in surveillance photos is asked to call the Biloxi Police Department at 228-392-0641 or Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-877-787-5898. Or give a tip online at mscoastcrimestoppers.com. Tipsters can remain anonymous when contacting Crime Stoppers, even if they qualify for a cash reward.
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