A North Carolina high school teacher described by family and friends as a devoted father, mentor, and coach was fatally wounded in a shootout when he and his brother-in-law tried to rob members of a Mexican drug cartel, Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said on Wednesday, April 14th.
Barney Dale Harris, 40, taught Spanish and was head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball and track teams at Union Academy Charter School in Monroe, according to his family and the school.
He was found dead on April 8 in the bedroom of an Alamance County mobile home that the local police called a drug “stash house.”-
Alamance County is east of Greensboro along interstates 85 and 40 — 55 miles west of Raleigh and 115 miles from Charlotte.
Just before 1 a.m. on April 8, Alamance County 911 received multiple calls of shots fired at a mobile home on Wyatt Road in Green Level, the Sheriff’s Office said. Officers found two individuals with gunshot wounds.
Harris was shot numerous times during what the sheriff described as an “old Western shootout” between two criminal enterprises, one of the enterprises being Harris and his brother-in-law, according to Johnson.
Officers found Harris wearing a face cover, gloves and a bulletproof vest, Johnson said.
Harris and his brother-in-law, Steven Alexander Stewart Jr. of Wadesboro, entered the home waiting for a cartel member to arrive so they could rob him of drugs and money, the sheriff said.
When Alonso Beltran Lara arrived, he was taken outside, bound by his feet and shot twice in the head, “execution style,” according to Johnson, who described Lara as a cartel drug runner. Lara was alive when officers arrived and was pronounced dead at a hospital, the sheriff said.
Murder charge against brother-in-law
On Sunday, Stewart Jr., 32, was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary and first-degree murder, according to the sheriff. Stewart Jr. is being held without bond at the Alamance County Detention Center.
In August, Harris was charged in New Hanover County with a misdemeanor weapons charge related to carrying a concealed gun, public records show. At the time of his death, a court date was pending.
At a news conference Wednesday, Johnson said officers found over 30 shell casings in and outside of the mobile home where Harris was killed, and bullet holes in three other mobile homes.
“The trailer looked like it had been ransacked,” the sheriff said. “They were looking for money or drugs, or both.”
A bag containing 1.2 kilos of cocaine, about 2.6 pounds, and about $7,000 in cash also were found, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Johnson said he wasn’t surprised that Mexico’s most dangerous cartel had tried to set up shop in his county.
“The I-85 and I-40 corridor has really caused Alamance County to be a great place to deposit their drugs,” he said, noting recent major related drug busts by his officers.
Johnson warned that cartel members may seek vengeance for Lara’s death.
“To this day as sheriff, I’ll tell you right now, I’m still worried about some retaliation, because the Mexican cartels, they don’t forget, they’re gonna pay back somebody, somewhere,” he said. “And that concerns me greatly as sheriff of this county.”
Fundraiser for Harris’ family
A GoFundMe page for Harris’ wife and their three children has raised $23,130.
“He never met a stranger and the encouragement and motivation he gave both his students and athletes was priceless,” according to the page.
The day after Harris died, his school posted a statement on social media that it has since taken down.
“The UA community is mourning the unexpected loss of teacher and coach Barney Harris,” the school posted. ”UA students, staff, and families are asked to wear UA Spirit Wear on Monday, April 12, to celebrate the life of Coach Barney Harris whose motto ‘All Love…No Fear’ will be forever a part of who we are as a school.”
The school issued another statement on Wednesday, after the sheriff released details about the shooting and Harris’ role.
“The Union Academy family was shocked and devastated to hear the information and will continue to focus on supporting our students and families,” according to the statement obtained by Observer news partner WBTV.
With information from the Charlotte Observer