A well-loved teacher and basketball coach in a Charlotte neighborhood, who lived a double life unbeknownst to people who knew him, lost his life in a shootout during an attempt to rob a Mexican drug cartel, authorities said.
The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office said the incident occurred on April 8 when the deceased, identified as Barney Harris, tried raiding the stash house of the notorious Sinaloa cartel with his brother-in-law, WCNC reported. The botched robbery, however, ended with fatalities after a reportedly fierce shootout between the cartel members and the robbers.
Though Harris was regarded as a good and respected person by locals in the neighborhood, Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said the Union Academy basketball and track team head coach lived a double life as he was also involved in the “dangerous and deadly” drug business, KABC reported.
“I can tell you right now, when we are dealing with the Mexican drug cartel, someone is going to die as a result of this,” Johnson added.
Providing further details on what transpired that day, authorities said Harris, in the company of his brother-in-law, went to the cartel’s stash house – a mobile home in the township of Green Level – to steal money and drugs that were being kept there. Authorities said the robbers supposedly used an electronic device to trace the cartel members.
After breaking into the trailer, one of the cartel members, identified as 18-year-old Alonso Beltran Lara, pounced on them. The robbers asked Lara where the money and drugs were being kept and when he did not fully cooperate, the teenager was shot execution-style.
“And they were trying to find the money and drugs and apparently he didn’t give them the information to do that and he was technically close range, two bullets to the back of the head, he was executed,” Johnson narrated.
The Sheriff said things escalated from there as other cartel members turned up at the address and a tense shootout ensued, resulting in Harris’ death. Though Harris was wearing a bulletproof vest, Johnson said it wasn’t enough to protect him from the high-powered weapons that were being used, KABC reported.
“Mr. Harris, he had a bulletproof vest on, but it did not work with the kind of ammunition that was used,” the Sheriff said. “He had gloves on, and he, they went there to do what was done except they did not think it was going to backfire on them.”
In the aftermath of the deadly shootout, Harris’ brother-in-law, identified as Steven Alexander Stewart, was arrested. He faces armed robbery and first-degree murder charges. Two pounds of cocaine as well as $7,000 were retrieved by authorities at the crime scene. Another suspect, Juan Daniel Salinas Lara, is also being sought after.
Besides coaching the Union Academy Charter School men’s varsity basketball and track teams, Harris was also a Spanish teacher at the high school, according to WSOC. Looking at his professional background and status, Johnson said he found it baffling the deceased teacher and coach also lived a life of crime.
“It’s just hard to understand,” Johnson said. “The fact that someone like Mr. Harris, who apparently had a pretty good life as a teacher and a coach, wound up in this type of crime.”
Johnson also said the warfare is probably far from over as he fears the Sinaloa Cartel may come after those close to Harris in retaliation. “I am still worried about some retaliation because the Mexican cartels, they don’t forget,” he said. “They are going to pay someone back, and that concerns me a great deal as sheriff of this county.”
The Sinaloa Cartel’s drug operation in the western hemisphere is regarded by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as the largest and most powerful, according to WSOC.
Meanwhile, tributes have been pouring in for the deceased high school teacher and coach, with a parent telling the news outlet Harris was “such a good person from what I saw — he was a good teacher.”
“We feel sad because every morning we saw him when I arrived and dropped off my children,” she added.
Union Academy also released a statement saying Harris will be “greatly missed by his family, friends, players, students and colleagues,” WCNC reported.