The LaBelle community experienced a devastating loss in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 14, 2020. Officer Julian Keen, a well-known and much loved, bright, shining light in Hendry County, was shot and killed while responding to help during a hit and run while off-duty. He was just 30 years old, but even though his time with us was cut short, he left an impression on likely thousands of us, that will never be forgotten.
Of course, true to the humble but magnificent man that Julian Keen was, the pain and grief from his passing has actually caused a positive rift. The recent hateful and violent turbulence in our community has been paused, at the news of his murder. Social media, that is usually filled with arguments and divisive often hateful and angry chatter, has been flooded with beautiful memories of Julian and how he was always going out of his way to help people, cherished moments with his family and friends where he never seemed to be without a smile, stories of his days as a football star, videos of his time as a ‘gator wrestler, tales of his talent as a musician and singer, and even posts about one-time meetings with strangers leaving an everlasting impression, the list goes on and on. Among the countless positive contributions he made to the world, he mentored a group of children, his Gentleman’s club, where they went around doing lawn care and yard work for local elderly. Truthfully, there aren’t enough words to describe all the wonderful things about him. It’s somewhat summed up with the newly created hashtag #belikejulian. A reminder of how he was able to bring everyone together with peace and happiness, by just being himself.
“It’s been 24 hours and I’m still numb, it’s still like a bad dream, you’re batman, you’re invincible you can’t get hurt. My mind is everywhere and I don’t know what to do or say. I want to tell the world your story and how awesome and amazing you are, but the world knows. I want to tell the world that you don’t have to give birth to someone to love them with all your heart, but they already know my love for you. I want to tell them that you were the best son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew, grandson, friend, but everyone knows. There wasn’t a status on my timeline today that didn’t have your name on it. Our whole community is hurting. Young and old, white, black, brown, and every color in between! I hope out of all of your sacrifices that our community can bond and work together for you and show the world that it is wrong. That everyone is not racist, that not all cops are bad. The division has to stop and I hope and pray it ends with you! I always knew you would do big things and I can feel it! I can feel you working to make us all see and love each other. You will have LaBelle, our small town show the world just how big our hearts are. Come Wednesday night everyone will see how important love is. LOVE is everything! Love your neighbors they are mourning too. We are all completely lost without you! Today I lost a son, but his brothers of all colors came together under my roof. The bond is like no other, it was heartwarming I wished I would have taken a picture. It hurt me that they were here without you but made me feel overwhelming love!! I have a feeling Wednesday night will be the same! I love you all, my family, friends, kids, community. Let’s get through this together, let’s be like Julian lets do this for him! One love one heart!! #belikejulian” Mona O’Bannon wrote.
“Today was a very hard day not only for me, but for Hendry County. Today, we lost one of the most honorable men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I met Julian when he was just a boy. He was always respectful, happy and outgoing. He had the best manners of most young men his age always ‘Yes Sir’ and ‘No Sir’. Never did I see him without a smile on his face or a snarky grin. He loved life and as long as I can remember, he always wanted to be a Wildlife Officer. Julian had a dream, a plan and he worked hard until it came true. I was so proud of him and the Honorable life he chose. To Julian; you will always be loved and remembered by me as a great friend and a person people should strive to be. If there were more of you in this world, it would be a better place. To his family; y’all did an outstanding job and my heart goes out to you. To his friends and Law Enforcement Brothers and Sisters, I pray that your Pain eases quickly. Rest In Peace Julian Keen. I’m very proud of you!!!” wrote Sheriff Steve Whidden.
“From the moment I met you as a kid, I loved you. The man you grew up to be was kind, loving and inspiring and you were one of my favorite people on this earth. You would always help anyone, anytime and always with a that smile that would light up the room and the hearts in it. I was blessed to see you at least every few weeks through work. You always made your way back to my office for a hug and on your way out I would always tell you I love you and to be careful. The last time happened to be this past Friday. How lucky I am to have gotten to see you and say those words to you so recently. The utter devastation and pain I feel will go away in time, but your memory and special place in my heart never will. The world has lost one of the most amazing souls God has ever created. Rest is Paradise sweet Julian. Until we meet again.” said Patti Martinez George.
Monday morning, June 15, radio stations, like B103.9, opened up phone lines and invited people to share their memories of Julian. The airwaves were filled with kind words, praise, and many, many tears. Big Mama, of Big Mama and the Wild Bunch, shared that he had met Julian just once- but he was someone you just couldn’t forget.
A candlelight vigil will be held, in Julian Keen’s honor, on Wednesday, June 17, at 8:00 p.m. in Barron Park.