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Shock of shooting death still haunts

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Megan Barnes can remember in excruciating detail the exact moment her life changed forever.

It was the summer of 2010 and the then-17-year-old was working her first job — a part-time gig at the restaurant next to the Robo Esso on Tranquille Road in North Kamloops.

Barnes had held the position for two months.

She was trying to save enough money to move out of the home she had been sharing with her alcoholic mother.

Fifteen minutes after closing time on July 30, 2010, Barnes and another employee were tidying up. She was grabbing a mop and bucket from a back room when she heard a commotion out front.

Two employees from the neighbouring gas station were in front of the restaurant — known then as So Espresso Bistro — waving their arms.

“I dropped my stuff and I went over to have a look,” Barnes told KTW.

“All of the sudden, it smashed right in.”

“It” being a Toyota 4-Runner SUV, driven that day by Wilbert Bartley.

A few days from his 51st birthday, Bartley was shot and killed by Kamloops RCMP Const. Clay Kronebusch outside the Robo Esso as Barnes was grabbing her mop and bucket inside the bistro.

After the officer fired three shots — each striking Bartley’s head — the SUV accelerated forward and plowed through the front window of the restaurant.

Barnes stood frozen inside, watching Bartley bleed out onto the floor she was about to mop.

The 4-Runner was lodged on a table inside the restaurant, but Bartley’s foot was still pushing down on the gas as he sat dead in the driver’s seat.

“The tires were spinning and screeching and smoking and squealing,” she said.

“I couldn’t move. He was bleeding from the side of his head and his eyeballs were popped out of his head.”

Barnes said she had trouble processing what was playing out in front of her.

At first, she thought the man behind the wheel was somebody who had been kicked out of the bistro for passing out on a seat earlier in the day.

That man was dark-skinned and native, Barnes said. Bartley was white.

“That was all the blood,” she said.

“His skin looked dark to me because there was so much blood.”

She thought he was wearing sunglasses before she noticed his eyes were no longer in their sockets.

“I thought this guy was coming in to kill us,” she said. “We kicked him out earlier. I thought he wanted to kill us.”

Unable to deal with what was happening, Barnes said she broke down.

“I just sat on the floor in the fetal position, shaking and crying,” Barnes said.

“I didn’t know what to do.”

THE AFTERMATH

When it all happened, Barnes said, she had no idea the person behind the wheel of the 4-Runner had been shot, let alone by police.

The gas station and the bistro are connected by a door in their respective back rooms. The employees mingled and talked as police descended on the scene.

Some of the Esso employees said they saw someone open fire on the 4-Runner.

Kronebusch and his partner, Const. Mark Freeman, were wearing plainclothes the day of the shooting.

The Esso employees who claimed to have seen the incident play out, Barnes said, had no idea the two armed men were police officers.

“Nobody knew what was going on,” she said. “No one knew it was a cop. No one realized.”

Barnes said Mounties quickly began their investigation.

“They showed up right away, but they didn’t come talk to us until about 15 minutes later,” she said.

“One cop came in, took our statements one at a time and then they told us to leave the scene. That was it.”

In her interview, Barnes said, she told the officer what she had seen — the blood, the eyeballs, the squealing tires.

She said there was no follow-up, noting that was the only contact she had with authorities after the shooting.

The official police report into Bartley’s death, completed in the days and weeks and months after the shooting by the Calgary Police Service, does list Barnes as a witness.

“At the time of the shooting, she was [redacted] at the rear of the bistro when the Toyota 4-Runner came crashing through the front window,” the report reads. “Barnes did not observe the actual shooting, but only witnessed the Toyota 4-Runner come crashing through the front of the store.”

The notes of the officer who interviewed Barnes, also included in the report, quote her as saying she had “seen a lot of blood.”

SINCE THEN

Barnes said she was at no time offered assistance from the Kamloops RCMP’s Victim Services unit — a team of people that works to connect traumatized victims and witnesses with the support and agencies available to them.

She tried to carry on with her life, Barnes said, but struggled to maintain focus at work in the exact spot where the most horrific moments of her life had played out.

“I was terrified to even go give customers food if they were sitting in that spot,” Barnes said.

“I wasn’t paying attention to anything. So, my hours started getting cut back.”

By December, Barnes said, she was down to working one shift every two weeks — not enough income for a teenager with hopes of making it on her own.

She quit on Boxing Day, 2010.

“Just constantly reliving that day, I couldn’t do it,” she said. “It screwed everything.”

Eventually, Barnes said, she got a job at another restaurant, but the stresses of work caused her severe anxiety and it didn’t last.

Almost a year after Bartley was killed, Barnes said a friend helped her file a claim with WorkSafeBC — something that likely could have been done much earlier with the help of RCMP Victim Services.

Since then, she has been seeing therapists and counsellors and medical professionals, but is still struggling to cope with the fallout of what she experienced.

Barnes said she has an eating disorder and suffers panic attacks and pains in her stomach — all symptoms she traces back to Bartley’s death.

“I used to eat all the time,” she said. “Then, after that happened, the texture of so many foods makes me want to throw up. It’s all psychological. The thing that happened that day, it broke me inside. It impacted me so bad and I don’t like it. I just want to be a normal person.”

‘SLIPPAGE’

Kamloops RCMP Staff Sgt. Grant Learned is not sure why Barnes never connected with Victim Services.

He said it’s possible the chaos of the scene after the shooting was such that normal protocols with respect to Victim Services weren’t followed.

“That, to me, is clearly slippage on our part,” he said. “What she saw is extremely traumatic. We would normally say, ‘Victim Services is available, are you interested?’”

Learned said sometimes people who have just experienced a traumatic event are in shock and do not absorb information being presented to them.

“I’m not saying that’s what happened here or trying to cast blame,” he said. “But, that’s not unusual. Regardless, it’s never too late.”

Cheryl Montgomery, acting program manager of Kamloops RCMP Victim Services, said Barnes is welcome to make full use of what they have to offer.

“What we can do for anybody is send them in the right direction and give them the tools to get back to a normal life,” she told KTW. “We will contact the agencies for them, get them started and see where it goes.”

 

 

THE FUTURE

Whether Barnes makes use of Victim Services at this point is her decision, but a normal life is exactly what she wants.

“I just want to get this over with,” she said. “I don’t like being this person. I always think about death, all the time. I’m always thinking, ‘When is my time going to come?’”

Barnes would like to work with children one day, possibly as a teacher.

“I really want to go to school and get on with my life,” she said. “I want to be normal. I want to have a job and I want a job I can do good at.

“This is stopping me from doing that. It just stopped everything. I’m not the person that I used to be.”

 

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