GRANGER — Brett Keiling, 46, who is charged with threatening U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly and his office staff, is a mentally ill man who badly needs help rather than incarceration, according to his elderly parents.
"When he was a child, I thought I had Jesus as my son," Brett’s 70-year-old father, Roger Keiling, said Thursday during an interview in the family’s ranch-style home.
An only child, Brett exhibited no behavioral or mental problems until his junior year at Mishawaka High School, when he started using marijuana, his father said. Suddenly, Brett refused to do homework and his A grades dropped to failing, the father said.
There were other changes, too. "There was an emotional imbalance. He’d talk real fast," the father said.
Sometimes his son would start laughing uncontrollably over some passing remark, the father said. One time at a restaurant, Brett laughed so hard over a small joke that he threw up, the father said.
The younger Keiling was arrested this week and charged with threatening Donnelly and his South Bend office staff.
The criminal charge accuses him of telling a Donnelly office employee that everyone in that office had been "back-stabbing him," according to an affidavit from an FBI agent. He then continued to threaten the employee, saying, "I am going to come and back stab you. I mean literally come down and stab you," according to the charge.
Roger Keiling said he overheard his son’s side of the phone conversation with the congressman’s office, although he didn’t know who Brett was talking to at the time. The father disputes the employee’s claim that Brett threatened to stab her.
"He said, ‘Don’t stab me in the back. How would you like it if I stabbed you in the back?" the father said. Roger Keiling said he thinks the woman overreacted, and he plans to contact Donnelly to tell him so.
"He’s never hurt anyone. He’s never threatened to hurt anyone," his father claimed.
Roger Keiling said he isn’t opposed to gun ownership, but he doesn’t keep any weapons in his home. "Guns don’t kill anyone any more than butcher knives kill. It’s people who kill," he said.
Brett harasses people and makes unwanted phone calls, but he’s not a danger, said the father, who is physically disabled and gets around inside his house using an electric cart.
Both parents said they rely on Brett to do tasks around the house and yard that they no longer can do themselves.
The elder Keiling is a minister in the Apostolic Pentecostal church and served as a pastor of a church in Mishawaka for four years. He said he also worked in the foundry at the former Dodge Manufacturing firm in Mishawaka for about 15 years.
The parents describe Brett as a gifted musician who could have had an outstanding career if not for his mental problems. "He has perfect pitch, total recall, but no common sense," Roger Keiling said.
Brett plays the violin, guitar and the keyboard. On Thursday, Brett’s violin lay atop its case in the living room. An old photo of him, violin in hand, sits nearby on top of the family’s TV.
Their son is "heartbroken because he’s not (working) in music. He’s called every religious media station in the country trying to play music for them," said his mother, Daralyn Keiling, 71.