The name wasn’t familiar, but the voice was.
South Carolinians know him as Kenney Boone, the thick-drawled former sheriff of Florence County. In less than two years, he’d gone from running one of the most terrifying crime scenes in state history, and preparing to launch his fifth bid for the office, to placing collect calls from prison.
It was the same Kenney Boone voice. But not the same Kenney Boone swagger.
Gang members and drug dealers waited behind him to use the dorm’s only phone. As several hollered, the sound careening off concrete and steel, the 54-year-old spoke softly. A prison dorm was not an ideal place to discuss his three-decade law enforcement career or how addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder pitched him onto a turbo descent from grace.
He insisted, “I want to get back to being the person I was before.”
Gone was the chutzpah, or at least the shield of it he still could muster on that autumn day in 2018 when a caravan of his investigators drove past his house, and investigator Farrah Turner hung her arm out a window to wave.
Her memory haunted him and comforted him. He was certain she died doing what she loved, protecting children from predators. But it didn’t bring her back.
Nor did it bring back Sgt. Terrence Carraway, the Florence city police officer fallen near his squad car as a sharpshooter picked them off in an ambush. Boone couldn’t reach Carraway, though he lay not 150 feet away.
The helplessness felt like miles.
To understand Kenney Boone on that horrific day — and what he did afterward — you must understand Kenney Boone before it.
He grew into a man, a husband, a father, all at the Florence County Sheriff’s Office. Dispatcher at 18, then deputy and investigator, he got elected sheriff in 2004 and every four years after that.
Law enforcement officers see it all: rapes, killings, assaults. And 34 years is a long time to accumulate the mental detritus of human depravity.
“To deal with that,” Boone said from prison, “it’s just really tough.”
Another man once described these careers as akin to carrying a backpack. From every call, every investigation, a rock got tossed into it. It might be tiny, small as a grain of sand, or weighty as a boulder.
But with each, the backpack grew heavier.
It’s called cumulative PTSD, and it can be more insidious than trauma from a single catastrophic stressor, largely because it more often goes undetected and, therefore, untreated. Every officer has cases that haunt.
For Boone, they tended to be those he couldn’t solve. One was the death of a 23-year-old Francis Marion University student, killed and burned up in a mobile home, her body left on her bed. Boone had touched her skull, charred to ash.
Then there was a child, killed by a hit-and-run driver, who was about the age of his own children.
Yet, he ignored symptoms, stuffed down his anxieties and sadness.
Police officers cannot show weakness, especially their leaders, or so he believed. He tried to be a strong advocate for his roughly 150 deputies. He ran successful campaigns for sheriff, one after another, and in 2015 was sworn in as president of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.
He also began to date his now-wife Anna. As she learned about the cases that haunted him, she was drawn to his protectiveness, the way he loved children, especially his own, and how he embraced her four as well. He seemed so strong, and she felt safe with him. People respected him. He was the person they called for help.
Yet, the backpack filled.
In 2016, his deputies arrived at a house where a man sat on the front steps, talking on the phone, blood on his white shirt. Inside, a woman lay dead, blood pooling around her head. Investigators found blood on the storm door where she’d tried to escape, before the man dragged her back inside.
Boone saw the woman, with her rounded pregnant stomach. He hadn’t protected her, hadn’t saved her baby.
He arrived home late that night.
“What a horrible day,” he told Anna.
She asked why.
“Seeing a pregnant woman with her head blown off.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” he snapped. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Instead, he chugged a beer. Then another and another.
As the backpack filled, Boone dealt with personal issues, too. As he and Anna dated, tensions flared between them and her ex-husband and his new wife, who was a SLED agent. The drama became public in social media posts and coverage on the website FitsNews.
Anna also noticed Boone spending a lot, often on gifts. A new car, a new boat.
One day, she took his debit card to purchase a small item, and it got declined. Given he made more than $100,000 a year, she suggested he tighten the financial reins. In response, he made it clear: He was a grown man who could handle his own affairs.
She backed off. They had separate accounts, and, at the time, it seemed like a small thing.
Boone had harsher words for the county’s finance director who had questioned his spending of public money. He threatened the man in a voicemail: “You ain’t seen hell yet.”
Anna figured it was part of his strong-man persona and a response to political opponents haranguing him.
In August 2018, she and Boone married, then moved into their first joint home, a stately white brick house in a beautiful upscale neighborhood called Vintage Place.
It was, she figured, a fresh start.
On Oct. 3, 2018, Boone had lunch with several investigators at a seafood joint in Lake City. Among them was Farrah Turner, an athletic 36-year-old investigator with a big smile and a heart for children.
Several hours later, Boone stood in his driveway helping Anna’s daughter from the car when he spotted Turner driving down his street leading a small caravan of investigators.
She hung an arm out to wave.
Wonder what they’re doing in the neighborhood, Boone thought.
In fact, two days earlier, Turner had interviewed a girl and a young woman who told her that a man named Seth Hopkins had sexually assaulted them for years. Now, Turner had an appointment to interview Hopkins, who lived deeper into the subdivision, and to execute a search warrant. Also at the house then was Seth’s father, Frederick Hopkins, a 74-year-old Vietnam combat veteran with more than 100 firearms in his collection.
Boone had barely gotten the child out of the car when he heard a loud blast, then another.
A neighbor ran over as Boone jerked his car door back open to hear his radio inside. The voice that greeted him was from Ben Price, one of the detectives who’d just driven by.
Calls for help. Officers down.
Boone drove his black Yukon along a side street toward the sound of gunfire. Among the first to arrive, he saw Carraway slumped on the ground, a bullet wound to his chest. Up toward a cul-de-sac, where the Hopkins’ mammoth house loomed, Sgt. Scott Williamson’s car had careened into another house. The officer was shot in the head but still alive.
Turner lay shot near the Hopkins’ front porch. Two other investigators lay wounded in the cul-de-sac.
Price yelled into his radio: “Do not come down here!”
From somewhere inside the brick house, a skilled gunman with a high-powered rifle was picking off the police officers. When anyone moved to recover the wounded, gunfire exploded.
Boone could not reach Carraway. He could not reach Turner. He could not reach the others. He could not protect them.
Dozens more officers arrived, showering the house with firepower. The smell of gunpowder filled the air.
Boone felt like he was in a war zone.
Alone in a crowd
About 7 or 8 percent of people will experience PTSD in their lives. That risk is much higher for law enforcement, especially among those who respond to major events.
It’s hard to know how many, given untold numbers don’t report symptoms. They too often don’t seek treatment, given they are supposed to be the strongest among us.
One study, conducted after Hurricane Katrina, found that up to 19 percent of police responders reported that they had PTSD. After the World Trade Center terrorist attack, another study found that 11 percent of police did.
Law enforcement officers are also at higher risk of developing depression. After the Sept. 11 attacks, nearly half of police officers reported suffering both depression and anxiety. Another one in four suffered depression alone, a study found.
Those who were grappling with personal issues at the same time were at increased risk.
Another big risk factor for both PTSD and depression? The amount of time an officer spent on scene — and how early he arrived at it.
Identifying with survivors boosted the risk even more.
Losing Farrah Turner
It had taken a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, designed to protect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, to recover the officers under fire in the cul-de-sac that evening.
Carraway died at the scene. Two wounded city police officers recovered more quickly. Two of Boone’s investigators remained hospitalized with severe injuries. Turner fought for her life. As the hours rolled into days, Boone moved in a fog. He barely slept or ate.
On Oct. 22, Turner returned to surgery, her ninth.
Boone was driving one of his stepdaughters to school when Anna called.
“I think you need to come back now,” she said.
Her tone conveyed why.
“No, no, no. Please don’t tell me.”
Later, Anna wrote a speech for him to give at Turner’s funeral. Boone couldn’t do it himself.
On Oct. 28, 2018, he stood before a massive audience of mourners describing how Turner was more than an investigator. “She was family.” Each time tears surfaced, he paused to try and stuff them down.
“To Farrah, rest easy, my sweet girl,” he managed in the end. “We’ll take it from here.”
After that, many nights, Boone re-watched a recording of the memorial and other tributes to the officers. Over and over. He still saw Turner driving by his house, waving at him. He still heard her, in pain.
Anna walked through the cul-de-sac with him. Fred Hopkins was in custody, charged with murder and multiple counts of attempted murder. Yet, the Hopkins’ house still loomed there, bullet-riddled, as Boone retraced every action, second-guessing himself.
At home, he’d sit in a chair for hours, silent and unreachable. Anna didn’t know what to do with this shattered version of her new husband. He’d say that he didn’t deserve her, didn’t deserve the kids, didn’t deserve to be happy. He avoided going to the sheriff’s office so often that colleagues tried to impress upon him the importance of showing up.
One day, he left home and didn’t come back for five days. Anna had no idea where he’d gone. He returned home, dirty and greasy, in the same clothes he left in.
She turned around, and there he was, lying in their bed.
Boone bought Anna a new Yukon, with custom floor mats. He paid for trips and bought them anything, everything. At first, it was flattering. Then she started to see them as foolish decisions about money.
Officials at the sheriff’s office, and soon SLED, saw it as much more.
Investigators found that Boone was using county and federal narcotics funds to buy bicycle equipment, electronics, coolers, baseball gear, floor mats, window tinting services, appliances, clothing — you name it. Six months after the shooting, prosecutors took the evidence to a state grand jury.
Early on April 24, 2019, Farrah Turner’s birthday, agents arrested Boone in the sheriff’s office parking lot.
At home, Anna was getting into the shower, preparing to meet Turner’s family, when agents arrived there. When one read the charges to her — two counts of embezzlement and one count of misconduct in office — she felt like someone had punched her.
Later that day, Boone stood before a judge in Richland County. He had no attorney with him and still wore his sheriff’s uniform: Army green cargo pants and a green polo shirt. His empty gun holster hung on his side.
The governor suspended him. The South Carolina Sheriff’s Association booted him from its ranks.
That quick, after 15 years in office, Kenney Boone wasn’t Sheriff Boone anymore.
He didn’t feel like much of anything at all.
Anna figured the arrest marked his rock bottom. Instead, he began drinking more. At times, he stayed drunk. He’d have a good couple of weeks, then go off the rails.
As Christmas approached, she urged him to take a plea deal. Bills piled up, and he’d lost his job. They couldn’t afford to pay an attorney through a trial, and she wasn’t sure he would survive one anyway.
After a plea, she hoped, this would all be over.
In early January, Boone pleaded guilty to embezzlement and misconduct charges. A judge gave him a five-year suspended sentence with five years probation and ordered him to pay more than $16,000 in restitution. That meant no prison time, if he followed the rules.
A month later, on Feb. 3, Boone left home, headed toward a nursing home where he’d picked up work doing maintenance. At some point that day, he started drinking. He sent Anna belligerent text messages. When he got home, he stalked silently up to their bedroom, then started texting her from there.
Anna is not a wallflower kind of personality. She’d had about enough. Nobody gave the sheriff’s wife a road map for handling any of this. She felt lied to, their lives in chaos, and now this?
Storming upstairs, she demanded to know why he was drunk and how they were supposed to pay all his probation costs, vehicle taxes, and everything else? He walked around her, and she followed him downstairs, still yelling.
This time, he answered. He called her vulgar names and chucked a tray of fruit across the room.
Anna told him to leave.
He did, and she locked the deadbolt behind him. For a few minutes, he sat in his truck.
Then, Anna and her 15-year-old daughter heard him fumbling to unlock the front door. When he got it open, he walked in with a baseball bat in hand. In the living room, he swung it, hitting the floor, a plant and a cushioned chair near their cat.
She’d never seen him act like this.
Her daughter left out the back door: “I’m calling 911.”
“Call them,” Boone said several times.
Later, some people saw that as a threat to law enforcement, given he was holding the bat. Anna saw it as a call for help, not unlike suicide by cop when a person is so desperate to end the pain but cannot do it himself.
Either way, SLED agents arrived and drove him to the Darlington County jail. Boone smiled maniacally in his mugshot.
Shortly after, Anna met with the state Attorney General’s crime victim ombudsman to go over the many ways she felt SLED had mistreated her family and how she felt more like a victim of the system than anyone else.
She also feared Boone might kill himself.
The woman called Eric Skidmore, head of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program, which provides officers mental health and peer support.
It so happened, he was eating lunch with two men, Cliff Richards and Patrick Cullinan.
Richards is executive director of the Hale Foundation, a long-term inpatient addiction treatment facility in Augusta, Ga. Cullinan spent 27 years in law enforcement and received intensive treatment for addiction and PTSD. The two men were trying to launch Valor Station, an inpatient facility that treats only law enforcement first responders.
Richards read up a bit on Boone. To him, it appeared obvious that Boone had been struggling with alcohol addiction, which led him to make terrible decisions.
He offered, “We’ll be more than happy to try and help him.”
From sheriff to inmate
On March 12, Richards drove from Augusta to York County to speak on behalf of a man he’d never met to emphasize the need for intensive treatment.
He watched Boone sob at a table facing a judge.
Over the past two months, the former sheriff had violated four of the 11 standard conditions of probation — basic rules like not drinking alcohol, possessing weapons or getting arrested.
Anna told the judge her husband needed help. Richards offered to pick up Boone and transport him to Augusta himself.
The prosecutor and probation agent were skeptical, though, given Boone’s behavior. And there were plenty of treatment centers in South Carolina.
The judge revoked Boone’s probation and sentenced him to prison for nine months of his original sentence. He said nothing about inpatient treatment out of state.
Disappointed, Richards left the courtroom. He said goodbye to a few people and headed to the front doors.
One of Boone’s friends called: “Cliff, come back!”
The judge had added that Boone must complete inpatient treatment after his release. If Hale Foundation got approval, he could go there.
But first, Boone was going to prison. He was handcuffed and transported to Kirkland Correctional Institution. On March 24, just before 3 a.m., officers woke him and led him to a prison van. Given he was in protective custody, he would serve his sentence out of state.
His destination: Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C., a 29-acre complex surrounded by fences topped with razor wire that houses the state’s death row.
Behind the fence
Boone arrived at Central in the early morning hours. Although he’d been sentenced to nine months, he stepped into the prison that is the main entry point for male felons sentenced to 20 years or more in North Carolina. It also houses prisoners with mental health and other medical needs.
As officers led him to a dorm with killers and rapists, he told himself it was safer than a South Carolina prison with criminals he’d helped lock up.
None of his fellow inmates knew who “William Boone” was. Besides, when COVID-19 tore through prisons, things like visitation and haircuts got put on hold. Boone’s grey hair grew shaggy, his beard a useful cover. He made up a story about why he was in prison.
At first, he mostly stewed over the people he’d trusted who he felt had sold him out. Then came the shame, the regrets. When he spoke with a Post and Courier reporter in mid-July, he thought back to all the times he’d stuffed down stress and grief.
“We try not to show any emotion. We’ve got to be that tough person. In my case, you learn just to cut off, which is not good because you continue to think about it, dwelling in your mind. It does nothing good for you.”
Now, he realized, he had a “demon inside.” With the cacophony of inmates yelling in the background, he described how much he wanted to start treatment for it.
“I am all in,” he said. “I’m going to give it all I can.”
Hope for the future
Anna has since learned that an estimated 20 percent of first responders suffer addictions. Almost one in five police officers show symptoms of PTSD.
She’s also learned that lavish spending is a common crutch. Counselors tell spouses to watch for things like extravagant purchases, not eating or sleeping, outbursts, withdrawal and adultery.
“Kenney pinged on everything except adultery,” she said.
She hasn’t seen her husband in five months due to a no-contact order. She doesn’t want him prosecuted for domestic violence or the animal cruelty charge given, she insists, he didn’t actually hit their cat. A SLED spokesman declined to address an open case.
Meanwhile, Anna still lives a half-mile away from the cul-de-sac.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Fred Hopkins. Seth is in prison after pleading guilty to repeatedly raping a young girl inside their house. But other Hopkins family members have moved back in.
There’s no escaping what happened on Oct. 3, 2018. Not in the realities of the physical place, nor in the dark corners of the Boones’ memories. Nonetheless, Anna figures that when her husband returns home, they likely will stay in Florence. Her children are in school there, and this is their home.
But first, he must get better.
A new mission
On Friday, two men from the treatment facility left Georgia at 5 a.m. to begin a four-hour drive to New Hanover prison in Wilmington where Boone had been transferred and was awakening to the day he’d know freedom again.
The two men were from the Hale Foundation, which for 30 years has operated an addiction treatment center for men. By day’s end, Boone would begin his year-long stay there.
One of the men, Patrick Cullinan, knew a lot about what Boone now faced. A former officer, he once ran into a home to find a boy hanging from a rope in a closet. He’d seen the mangled bodies, killed a man, felt the helplessness, and tried to drink it away. After 33 years sober, he could talk to Boone in a way others couldn’t. So could the other man in the car, Andy Carrier, a long-time Georgia state patrol captain turned social worker.
When they arrived, they drove through a check point, showed ID and signed some paperwork. The prison looked so old and depressing, Cullinan wondered how it was still functional.
Boone emerged into the hot sunshine, breathed in the air of freedom, and slipped into Cullinan’s pick-up truck. The men all introduced themselves.
For the first couple of hours, Boone sat quiet and guarded as they cruised down Interstate 95, which took them by the Florence exits, within minutes of Anna and the bullet-riddled house at the end of a cul-de-sac. He remained stony as they traversed the vast Pee Dee region where he’d built his long career, and lost it.
Cullinan knew he had the advantage. Three burly men, each with decades in law enforcement, locked together in a pick-up truck for several hours. He and Carrier traded police stories.
They also talked about recovery. Cullinan mentioned being happy today, despite the challenges of sobriety.
Boone perked up, clearly listening more intently then. He began to talk. He said he wanted a new life.
When they arrived at the Hale Foundation, late afternoon sunshine warmed a stretch of five historic houses in Augusta that house the treatment center. Boone peered out at the main office, a white house with a wide front porch, rocking chairs and an American flag.
He slipped out of Cullinan’s truck and said, “I’m ready.”