Bernadette Walker, the mother of award-winning hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd, is opening up about the death of her ex-husband Floyd Sullivan. He was allegedly killed by their 19-year-old son Jamil Ali Sullivan, also known as Michael, who Walker said suffers from schizoaffective disorder.
On Jan. 6, Floyd — who helped raise Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, 26, and Slim Jxmmi, 28, since they were preteens — died from gunshot wounds at approximately 9:30 p.m., PEOPLE confirmed.
The Tupelo Police Department confirmed to PEOPLE on Jan. 7 that Walker and Floyd’s son Michael, who was announced as a person of interest following the fatal shooting and was “being detained on a psychological hold,” was “released from a local psychological care facility and immediately arrested for murder.” The death of Floyd, 62, is being investigated as a homicide. It was not immediately clear if Michael has legal representation or has entered a plea at this time.
Talking to PEOPLE about the incident, Walker, 46, said she believes she could’ve been her son’s victim.
“I’m not going to say that, ‘Something like this was unexpected,'” Walker claimed. “Of course even though it wasn’t unexpected, you still don’t expect it. He has threatened me multiple times. This very well could’ve been me. He has shot guns more than once.”
Walker learned of the killing from relatives of her ex-husband Floyd, whom she said had a complex relationship with his son.
“It was very complicated — they had a very complicated relationship,” she said. “It was sort of heartbreaking, but I felt like the only hope I had was that Floyd would somehow get through to him. But I think Floyd carried on with his own life and Michael just didn’t understand. It’s very complicated.”
Michael had been living with his mom in Georgia off and on — going between her home, his father’s home in Tupelo, Mississippi, and spending time with his brothers while they were on tour or performing — before he officially moved in with his dad in November. Walker told PEOPLE that she’s unsure of exactly what led to the alleged murder.
“I don’t want to speculate — it could’ve happened to anybody because Michael really didn’t need a rhyme or reason to do anything,” she said. “He was aggressive when he was off his meds, so it could’ve been as simple as asking him to do something that could’ve set him off.”
Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi have yet to speak out publicly regarding the death of their former stepfather, but Walker says that her sons are coping.
“It’s been a few days and everybody’s trying to give them space and let them process what happened,” she told PEOPLE. “It’s still unbelievable. They’re making funeral arrangements and everything. They’re broken but they have to keep on because obviously they still have obligations. They’re just dealing with it as best they can.”
During his time living with his mom and amid interactions with his brothers, Walker said Michael had some aggressive outbursts due to his mental illness.
She claimed that he attacked her and her fiancé James Garmon on multiple occasions, jumped on one of Swae Lee’s friends and got into an altercation with a bodyguard. Of the instance that led to Michael moving in with his father permanently, Walker said: “My fiancé restrained him physically. He hit both of us and tried to snatch my eye out of my socket. I had a big black eye and even that day, he said we were gonna die.”
Before Floyd’s death, Walker was hopeful that he could somehow connect with Michael, whom she could no longer require to take his medication after he turned 18 in December 2018. “He said when he took the medication, it helped. He said he didn’t like to take the medication because it made him sleepy,” she told PEOPLE. “He’s a very social person and he loves music when he’s on his medication.”
“The mental health system is trash,” Walker explained. “There were so many red flags. Even before I sent him back to Tupelo, Michael had been hospitalized more than once this year and each time they put him in a facility, they kept him for about two weeks. They didn’t really do anything for him, they just kept him, like babysitting.”
“There were so many red flags where he should’ve been kept for longer periods of time or put in jail,” she continued. “There were so many times that they just did not do it. The police don’t have the power to arrest someone that someone says has a history of psych problems.”
Walker also said that the conditions of the facilities, as well as some of the staffers she encountered, were not up to par. She hoped that there will be some improvement in the treatment of individuals with mental illness.
“There were a lot of people in the facilities and some of them had to share rooms,” she said. “The facilities were very trashy. I went to one in particular when he was in Mississippi and when you walked in, it didn’t smell like it was kept up very well. It’s just not the places that you would think that a person that has a health condition should be in.”
“These people are people too and with the proper care they can live a normal life,” Walker said, before explaining that her son was very sweet, thoughtful and talented and could’ve had a musical career of his own had he received the proper care for his condition early on in life when she tried to get him help.
“But when you have people that are in positions that they don’t deserve to be in, a lot of times these people are suffering,” she added. “There needs to be some laws passed and there needs to be some funding for mental health because it’s not just Michael.”
Walker said she wants to help educate people regarding the challenges that individuals dealing with mental illnesses and their caretakers endure, and she hopes that the recent tragedy within her family may help others take mental health more seriously.
“I just want people to understand, especially in the black community, we don’t take it seriously and we don’t give it any weight,” she said. “We just kind of accept that a person acts how they act or ‘Hey, this person is a little weird.’ But no, it needs to be something that’s taken seriously. Michael was one of those people that had he done that, he probably would’ve had a great career. But instead, this is what happened.”
Walker hopes that Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi can leverage their platforms and raise awareness about mental illness.
“I thought about talking to my sons about some advocacy for mental health,” she said. “Because they’re young, because they’re in the industry they might be able to have an impact.”