The parents of Brandon Tyson talk about how they still have questions about the details of his death.
Josh Morgan, The Greenville News
As she sat talking to an investigator before dawn that September Saturday, Nikki Chastain cried about one thing no one disputes: “It was supposed to be a regular football-game night.” Instead, she said, “it was a nightmare.”
A group of teenage boys, friends from Wren High School in Powdersville, traveled to see their Hurricanes take on nearby Easley High School. At least one of the boys played for Wren, he revealed later in a 911 call.
The Hurricanes dominated on Easley’s home turf, winning 48-7. The game was lopsided by halftime, so some of the boys left and went to the Chastain home on Merritt Road in Piedmont, where 17-year-old Matthew Chastain and his parents, Nikki and Mark Chastain, regularly hosted them for weekend hangouts and sleepovers.
More boys came over later, according to case notes and interviews provided to The Greenville News and the Independent Mail by the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office through a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to deputies’ investigative files, this is the account of what happened.
Mark and Nikki Chastain had spent part of that Friday on Lake Hartwell before leaving Portman Marina and returning home between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Nikki Chastain estimated that she drank four beers that day and her husband had six.
As the hours slipped into early Saturday morning on Sept. 8, 2018, there were at least six 17- and 18-year-old boys at the Chastain home: Matthew and five friends, including Brandon Tyson, whom his friends called Brad. They gathered around a fire pit outside while Mark and Nikki stayed inside. The teens also had access to the Chastains’ nearby garage, which was converted to a “man cave” with a seating area, bar, TV, a “Harley Drive” sign and Clemson University memorabilia on the walls.
Eventually, the Chastains went upstairs to bed, retiring to separate rooms because Mark snores.
Back downstairs, Matthew Chastain told his friends he was going to take a shower, according to statements the teens gave investigators.
Deadly chaos erupted just moments later, Chastain told deputies. Before the sun rose, 17-year-old Brandon Tyson was fatally shot, and his friend’s father, Mark Chastain, admitted to pulling the trigger.
Mark Chastain told investigators that he acted in self-defense because he feared for his life and the lives of his family.
Questions remain for Tyson family
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For Tyson’s family, questions remain.
Tyson had ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms before he was shot, according to investigators. His family wonders where he got them. Toxicology reports show Tyson tested positive for marijuana and psilocin, a psychedelic compound that is found in so-called “magic mushrooms,” according to investigators.
Dr. Henry Millwood, an emergency room physician at AnMed Health Medical Center who did not treat Tyson, said hallucinogenic mushrooms can alter a user’s perception of lights, shapes, movements and time. He said such mushrooms can affect the user in as little as 20 minutes and for up eight hours.
Millwood said a user can develop a tolerance for them, needing more over time to produce the same effects, and he said one concern about using them is the “potential of getting the wrong mushrooms.” While some are “relatively harmless,” he said, it can be hard for users to distinguish between those and the mushrooms that can cause brain dysfunction and other serious health risks.
Because of the intensity of Tyson’s reaction, investigators wonder how many he ate and whether the mushrooms he ingested were laced with something else. They may never know.
Tyson behaved erratically and was uncontrollable after he ate them, his friends told investigators. It’s not clear how much time passed between when Tyson ingested mushrooms and when his behavior became erratic. It’s also not clear how much time passed before one of the teens called 911.
One of his friends described Tyson acting like a “wild animal.” The teens told investigators that Tyson was storming through the house and yard, throwing and breaking things, punching people and bleeding after bashing glass.
Their description doesn’t square with the image that Jeremy and Nikki Tyson have of their son, a senior in high school who they say was just two credits shy of graduating when he died.
He’d had trouble, yes, his parents said. Nikki Tyson said they had “grounded him from everything” in late June after she searched his phone and found Snapchat messages with references to fights, drinking and drugs. The day before he died, Brandon met with an investigator at the Sheriff’s Office to share what he knew about an alleged assault that he’d said someone else committed, according to an incident report. Tyson’s mother said she took him to meet with the investigator that day. That case has been closed, and no charges were filed, records show.
But Brandon was also the boy who had volunteered at NewSpring Church, a 6-foot-4 runner, a baseball player and a coach to younger children, his parents said. He had dreams of being an underwater welder, had a plan to train at Tri-County Technical College.
His handwritten business plan, including his projected salary after college, is still on the desk in his upstairs bedroom, a time capsule of youth that looks much the way it did the day he died, according to his mother. His sports trophies gleam in one corner, and his size 15 boots, shoes and sandals are lined up along the edge of his bed. His Texas Longhorns comforter is neatly tucked.
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His mom grew up in Texas and raised him a Longhorns fan. They made up silly superstitions about what could help the Longhorns win — no beans or spinach, but yes to Frito pie. Brandon and his mom were supposed to go to a Texas Longhorns game Nov. 17, a present she had promised for his senior year.
Instead, Nikki Tyson went with the rest of her family and scattered some her son’s ashes along an end zone in the Longhorns’ Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
No criminal charge has been filed against Mark Chastain or anyone else following the investigation by the Sheriff’s Office and a meeting about the case with prosecutors at the 10th Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office. Deputies and prosecutors met to discuss the case in November. The case was further reviewed in late February, investigators said.
Solicitor David Wagner said in an interview this month that prosecutors never had the file on Brandon’s death in their office, but he said he was familiar with the facts of the case. He said a second round of toxicology testing done on samples taken from Tyson’s body “discovered mushrooms,” confirming he had ingested them before he died.
“The people who were there that night say he had just gone ballistic,” Wagner said. “The physical evidence, statements and 911 call here showed one thing: He was acting like he was out of his mind. Everything added up to self-defense, and South Carolina’s castle doctrine says the shooter has a right to defend himself in his own home.
“The witnesses said Brandon was behaving totally out of character. This is an extremely sad case, and my heart goes out to the families involved. You may never know the things that drugs can be laced with. I’d love to know where those mushrooms came from. If you can stop that source, maybe you can prevent another family from having to go through this.”
Brandon’s parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Mark Chastain on Oct. 31, saying he owed a duty of care to the teenager he knew. Chastain instead made a decision to retrieve a gun from an upstairs bedroom and then searched for their son until he found and shot him, the lawsuit alleged. Chastain filed a counterclaim Jan.15, alleging that the Tysons were negligent in supervising their son and suing them for damages done to his home.
The lawsuit was settled March 15, according to court records. The terms of the settlement have not been made public.
The Greenville News and the Independent Mail reached Mark Chastain by phone.
“My attorney has advised me not to say anything,” Mark Chastain said Tuesday. “I wish I could. There’s a lot of wrong information out there. I’ve just been told not to say anything. It was just a bad situation, and I wish I could say more.”
Though the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office considers the case closed, the Sheriff’s Office conducted interviews related to the investigation as recently as March 5, according to case records. Brandon’s parents have asked the State Law Enforcement Division to review the case, they said, but as of Friday, they had not received a response from South Carolina’s top law enforcement agency.
‘Like a wild animal was in the house’
Crickets chirped in the background as Matthew Chastain was interviewed by Jeff Finley, a detective with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. It was about 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 8. The sounds of pre-dawn are captured in the background of the recorded interview.
Chastain, 17, recounted an interaction that he said he and Tyson had a few hours earlier. Chastain said Tyson said, “Hey, I’m going to take some ‘shrooms.”
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s really a good idea,'” Chastain told the investigator. “He kind of convinced me into taking them. I’ve got a lot of stuff going for me. I don’t really want to be doing too much of that. I try to keep my mind focused on the things it needs to be focused on. I took them anyways, like I shouldn’t have.”
Chastain said the mushrooms were in a bag, and he said he ate a hard stem “that looked like a straight-up mushroom.”
None of the other boys there that night said they ate them.
Chastain said that before the shooting he had gone upstairs to take a shower. He was still in the bathroom, he said, when suddenly “it felt like the whole house was falling down.”
It is unclear how Tyson arrived at the Chastains’ house that night. His mother, Nikki, said he had no vehicle or cellphone when she dropped him off at a different friend’s house earlier in the day. When investigators asked the other teens how Brandon Tyson got there, some said they had “no clue” and others said he “just showed up.”
The teens in the group described to investigators what seemed to happen with the friend they called Brad. They described a chaotic series of events that started outside near the fire pit and included Tyson and other teens running inside to the converted garage.
“Brad started acting a little bit odd,” one said. “He was trying to make himself throw up and all kinds of stuff, sticking his hands down his throat.”
The teen told investigators that Tyson pulled down his pants and attempted to masturbate in front of them.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to have to calm down before Mark hears you out here,'” the teen said. “Brad’s breaking stuff, slinging stuff, trying to hit everybody. So I just duck.
“He just don’t go out looking to beat people up; that’s just not Brad. He was just going wild, running back and forth inside and out of the house.”
The teen said he decided to hide behind his truck. He said Matthew Chastain eventually came downstairs and so did his father, Mark.
“I don’t even want this to get back to Wren High School, but I know it is,” the teen told an investigator in a recorded interview.
Two other teens in the group, brothers, also described interactions with Tyson. They said it seemed Tyson would go wild and then have a few seconds of clarity.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry; I don’t know what’s going on with me,'” one of the brothers said of Tyson. But the same teen also said there were moments where Tyson was “literally like a wild animal was in the house.”
The other brother said Tyson said to him, “Please stop this,” but the teen told investigators that Tyson “was wild, going crazy… We couldn’t keep him still.”
Another teen, a Wren High School football player who called 911 in the moments before the shooting, told an investigator that he drank “a quarter of a beer,” a Michelob Ultra that he got from the refrigerator in the converted garage, and that he “smoked a little bit of pot.” He said he had tried to “babysit” Tyson earlier in the night so he wouldn’t get into trouble.
“Have you ever seen YouTube videos of people doing, like, bath salts?” the teen asked an investigator. “He was, like, talking to people, but he was, like, talking to himself. He was just saying stuff over and over again… He would say, ‘Jesus Christ. So if I wear —’ and then he would just stop.”
It was Matthew Chastain who, after getting out of the shower, went back upstairs to get his dad, he told investigators.
“Please come help; please come help,” he said.
What Mark Chastain told investigators
Mark Chastain told Staff Sgt. Erik Russell, an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office, that he had gotten into bed when his son Matthew came running into the bedroom.
Nikki Chastain also went downstairs amid the commotion.
“I feared for everybody’s life,” Mark Chastain, who was injured, said during an interview at his hospital bedside the morning of the shooting.
Chastain, bloodied, had a bite mark on his cheek, a chunk of flesh missing. The injury required at least two surgeries, according to statements included in the case file.
Chastain said that when he went downstairs before the shooting, Tyson bit him.
“When he did that, I ran upstairs to get the gun,” Chastain told Russell.
Chastain said he retrieved the .38 Smith and Wesson revolver from a sock drawer. He also went into a bathroom and looked at his face, according to investigators. A bloody towel was part of the evidence that was collected.
Back downstairs with the gun, Mark Chastain fired at least two shots at Brandon Tyson, according to case records. Shots can be heard on the 911 call recording.
One shot near Tyson’s neck left a superficial wound.
Chastain told investigators that Tyson tried to throw a wooden two-by-four at his wife. Jeff Finley, one of the Sheriff’s Office detectives, described the wood as a “homemade Jenga block.”
Mark Chastain told investigators that he then fired another shot. That shot, which hit the right side of Tyson’s head, was fatal.
Tyson was rushed to Greenville Memorial Hospital when deputies arrived at the Chastain home after receiving the 911 call from one of the teens. Tyson was shot sometime after 2 a.m. Sept. 8. He died at the hospital shortly before 4 a.m. His parents didn’t know anything had happened to him, they said, until a coroner knocked on the door of their Anderson County home around 7:15 a.m.
“One way or another, we’re going to have to get your blood,” to test it, investigator Russell told Mark Chastain at the hospital.
Chastain’s blood-alcohol content upon testing was 0.074, according to Finley. A person with a .08 blood-alcohol content is legally considered to be impaired in South Carolina. Chastain also tested positive for marijuana.
Russell asked Chastain in the hospital if he was sure it was him who shot Tyson and that it wasn’t someone else in the home.
“You did it? You’re certain?” Russell asked him.
“100 percent,” Chastain answered.
Later, at his home during a November re-enactment of the shooting for Sheriff’s Office investigators, Chastain filled in other details. Chastain said he went downstairs before the shooting to find broken glass and Tyson punching windows. Chastain said he knew there were “a couple of boys in here” at the time and that he and the boys were all screaming at Tyson. He said he didn’t remember which boys were present.
“He knocked me really hard in the head,” Chastain said of Tyson.
Photos taken by Sheriff’s Office investigators right after the shooting show five surviving boys at the home, but they give no indication of where each boy was on the property at the time of the shooting.
One of the teens told investigators that Chastain said of Tyson, “Oh my God, he bit my face off.” The teen told investigators that Chastain said of Tyson: “I’m going to shoot the m—–f—–.”
Another teen who was there told investigators he heard Matthew Chastain telling his father not to shoot Tyson — “begging him not to,” the teen said.
‘It doesn’t mean we’ll stop looking for answers’
Brandon Tyson’s parents said they still have so many questions about his death, whether what happened to him was thoroughly investigated, and what information they don’t know about their son’s final hours.
Their family has created a blog, Justice 4 Brandon, and is seeking information about where he was between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2018.
Brandon’s father, Jeremy, said they also question whether all of the injuries their son had when he died were self-inflicted. Jeremy Tyson said his son had “blood all over him” and that his injuries included a skull fracture, a broken nose and a broken jaw.
As to the bite that Chastain had on his cheek, Jeremy Tyson said he believes his son “would only do this in self-defense.”
Sheriff’s Office investigators acknowledge they did not test all the teens at the Chastain home for gunshot residue and that they did not confiscate or search their cellphones. Investigator Andy Tribble said the deputies don’t always test people for gunshot residue anymore, especially is a case where witnesses’ versions of what happened are similar. Investigator Finley said deputies didn’t take the teens’ phones because they didn’t have probable cause to believe they contained video or other information relevant to the shooting.
Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride said he stands behinds his agency’s investigation. He said the blog created by Tyson’s family has at times included misinformation and “conspiracy theories” that have no merit.
“Nobody wants to lose a child,” McBride said. “It’s sad, and it’s difficult. Our hearts break for them.”
Nikki Tyson said she continues to hope that a grand jury or another investigative agency will review her son’s death “more deeply.”
“Just because they close the case, it doesn’t mean we’ll stop looking for answers,” she said. “The truth is the truth.”
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