The past week brought a homecoming at the Rock Hill school district bus garage. But there were tears instead of smiles, pain instead of joy, at seeing Bridget Barnette walk through the doors for the first time in almost a month.
Barnette has missed so much work because her oldest son was gunned down Nov. 23.
Tyson Barnette, 26, grew up in Rock Hill and played sports and excelled in academics at Northwestern High School. He moved to suburban Washington, D.C., to work for the U.S. Postal Service. He died in a hail of bullets as he sat inside his mail delivery truck at 7:20 p.m. on a Saturday night.
“Nobody has been able to tell us a thing new about finding out what happened to my son,” Bridget Barnette said.
None of the local, state and federal police investigating the killing has solved the case, despite a $125,000 reward being offered by the police and postal service.
Bridget Barnette walked out of the bus garage, slowly, carrying the weight of the world, to board her bus and pick up the special needs students who love her and who, along with their parents, cried this week when she came back to work.
In the bus garage door comes another driver who tries to smile but cannot. The other drivers all say hello to him, too, because like Bridget Barnette, this man is respected and loved.
“The police up there still haven’t found out who killed my grandson,” said Sam Barnette, who also drives a bus for Rock Hill schools. “Somebody knows who shot my grandson. And the case is getting colder and colder all the time.”
The death of Tyson Barnette in suburban Landover, Md., just a few miles from the White House and U.S. Capitol, enraged postal carriers and their labor union. Carriers have railed that late deliveries caused by staff cutbacks forced Barnette to be working after dark on a street lacking proper lighting.
Barnette was ambushed, killed in the street in front of a vacant house where he was trying to deliver a package.
Another Rock Hill native, James “Jimbo” Knox, worked for more than 40 years at the same postal station that Tyson Barnette worked out of. Knox lives less than a mile from where Barnette was killed. He and Sam Barnette were both in the class of 1962 at Emmett Scott High School.
“I was a carrier for 34 years and there is no reason, none, that Tyson Barnette should have been delivering mail at that hour,” Knox said. “Maybe the last week before Christmas – maybe – when we were the busiest, did we deliver mail after dark.
“Something needs to be done about that, and something needs to be done to find out who killed that young man.”
The slaying received intense media coverage in Washington. It became a national news story for a couple of days, because of the proximity to the nation’s capital and because Tyson Barnette was a federal employee. The killing of a federal employee in the course of his duties could result in the death penalty for whoever did it.
Prince George’s County Police Department detectives and federal postal agents canvassed the neighborhood where the killing took place the day after the crime with dozens of SWAT officers. They distributed fliers to terrified neighbors. Another squadron of local, state and federal police walked the neighborhood again the following Saturday.
Nothing changed then, or since.
“We are here in Rock Hill and the crime happened so far away, and we don’t know if they are any closer to finding the killer than they were weeks ago,” Sam Barnette said.
The investigation is continuing, said Christina Cotterman, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s County police, but she declined to offer any details about whether police have any suspects or are close to an arrest.
“As soon as we can release something, we will,” she said.
The uncertainty and secrecy that is part of the police investigation – even if that secrecy might be needed for police to catch Tyson Barnette’s killer – doesn’t do much for his family as Christmas approaches.
A gunman took away the Christmas joy in so many Barnette family houses. Bullets took away the cheer.
Gun violence stole Christmas from the Barnettes.