A fire engine behind a roadblock near where a man apparently set his house on fire and ended up in a confrontation with law enforcement and was shot dead.
A fire engine behind a roadblock near where a man apparently set his house on fire and ended up in a confrontation with law enforcement and was shot dead.
A Neshoba County man who was shot and killed by law enforcement Thursday morning after he apparently set his house in the Burnside community on fire had just returned from a tour in Afghanistan and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, a family member said.

Charles Edwin “P.J.” Nickels Jr., 35, of 11041 Road 836, was pronounced dead at the scene of the house fire after he first pointed a gun at a responding firefighter and then at law enforcement officers.

Nickels was told multiple times to put the gun down on the ground, said Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell, before he aimed at them.

Nickels had initially served time in Afghanistan with the National Guard as a heavy equipment mechanic and later returned to work there as a diesel mechanic with a private firm, his mother-in-law Kathryn Gay said.

Sheriff Waddell said first responders initially answered a call to a report of a house fire on Road 836.

“While all units were responding, information came out to all officers that the individual homeowner had set his house on fire,” Waddell said. “In a matter of minutes, first responder Wesley Spears with the Linwood Fire Department who was close by, heard the call and went to the house to back up Arlington Fire Department.”

As Spears approached, Nickels’ driveway was blocked by two vehicles.

“As Wesley approached the house, Nickels came down the driveway and pulled a pistol on him,” Waddell said, noting that Spears was in the area working for Central Water Association at the time.

Spears backed away and made contact with authorities.

Waddell said officers blocked both ends of Road 836 and detoured traffic after they were told that Nickels might have an assault rifle. Volunteer fire trucks were also not allowed to respond to the house fire.

Neighbors across the street and next door to Nickels’ house were called and told to evacuate, he said.

“We felt like it was going to be a bad, bad situation,” Waddell said.

The Sheriff said he then drove by the house initially to get a visual and found that the house was fully engulfed in fire.

“When I went to do the visual the vehicles had been moved from the driveway,” Waddell said. “I didn’t see an assault weapon. He was in the driveway with a pistol.”

Waddell, accompanied by four officers, then returned to the house to “do our job to defuse the situation. We approached and the man was standing in the driveway. We made verbal contact with him and asked him to lay the gun down. He just looked at us and shook his head ‘no.’ We asked him to come and talk to us and he shook his head ‘no.’ We ordered him two or three times and then he got in a shooting position with the gun pointed at us. He was then shot.”

During the confrontation with Nickels, Waddell said ammunition “went off for quiet a while” inside the burning house.

“From what I was told he had a lot of ammunition on the premises and several guns,” he said.

The shooting is being investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation who arrived at the house later that morning.

Neshoba County EMS responded to the shooting as well as county medical examiner John Stephens who pronounced Nickels dead at the scene.  The body was taken to Jackson for an autopsy.

Road 836 was closed to traffic for several hours on Thursday as MBI officers gathered evidence and photographed the scene.

Waddell said he stayed in touch over the weekend with the four officers who responded to the house.

“It’s really bothering them,” he said. “Hope Chadwick, Nickels’ mother, called and expressed the family’s concern for my officers. She let me know they were praying for all of us. The family holds no ill feelings at us. They know we didn’t want to do it but it was unpreventable.”

The four officers were given the weekend off from duty after the incident.

“A couple returned today [Monday] and the others are taking more time,” Waddell said.

Nickels had six children, his mother-in-law said.

He was disturbed by the fact that he suffered from PTSD and couldn’t go back to work, she said.

“He had a house to pay for and six children that depended on him,” she said. “Four children were living with him and a wife. PTSD is like any other mental illness, it is rarely understood. You see it. Your mind is straight today but tomorrow you are inhuman.”

She said Nickels was a proud man.

“Some people can reach out and say ‘help me’ and some people cannot. He was proud to serve his country. He was proud to work. He always made sure that everybody else had everything they needed,” Gay said.

Nickels lived in Sandtown community most of his life. His hobbies included hunting and collecting guns.  

He was a member of Grace Baptist Church.

A friend of the family said that although Nickels had  PTSD and other things, “he had the biggest golden heart of anyone I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. You did not even have to come to him in order for him to help you.”

 He wanted to be not only a provider to those he loved, but a protector as well, the friend said.

“If he thought of you as a friend, you knew you could depend on him to always be there for you no matter where he was in the world or what time of day or night it was.”

The friend also recalled Nickels’ laugh.

“He had a laugh that would make you want to laugh along with him. He spoke stern, including the way he told you he loved. You never doubted if he meant it.

“Although nobody that truly knew P.J. thought he would have actually killed or even hurt one of the responders that fateful day, it is important to know his family holds no ill feelings towards any of the responders involved.”

The friend hopes that if anything positive were to come out of this tragic event it would be awareness of PTSD and other things that go along with it.

Services will be held 10 a.m. today (Wednesday) from John E. Stephens Chapel.

The Reverends Neil Chadwick, Shawn Holley and Adrian Holley will officiate.

Burial will be in the Nickels family cemetery.

Survivors include his wife, Jennifer “Mandy” Nickels; mother, Hope Chadwick; daughters, Katie Burton, Emily Nickels and Eden Nickels; sons, Daniel Hutcherson, Gavin Nickels and James Nickels; sisters, Jamie Holly and Jeni Collins;  brothers, Neil Chadwick, Brian Chadwick, Tony Chadwick, Brenden Chadwick, Jason Garrard, and Eric Garrard.