By St. John Barned-Smith Houston Chronicle
SANTA FE, Texas — For 23 years, John Barnes worked for the Houston Police Department, patrolling the streets of city’s southwest side, and later hunting rapists and pedophiles.
But his most dangerous day came four months into his new job as a school police officer in Santa Fe, when gunman opened fire in the town’s high school, killing ten and critically injuring Barnes.
During the shooting, Barnes and another officer rushed into Santa Fe ISD High School, where they confronted the 17-year-old junior accused in the shooting, Dimitrios Pagourtzis.
Pagourtzis shot Barnes with a shotgun, badly wounding the 49-year-old school police officer, according to HPD Capt. Jim Dale, a close friend of the officer. A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper with Barnes fired off a shot before Pagourtzis surrendered.
Dale said Barnes was taken in critical condition to UTMB Galveston, where the heart of the injured officer stopped twice as paramedics and doctors scrambled to stem bleeding from wounds in both arms and repair the damage caused by the shotgun blast.
In stark contrast to the decision of a Florida sheriff’s deputy who waited outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a shooter killed 17 people, Barnes charged into Santa Fe ISD High School with the state trooper and confronted the gunman.
“He went to the fight. He was willing to give up his life to save as many children as possible,” said Houston Police Chaplain Monty Montgomery, another friend. “That’s a big difference than what we’ve seen some other times.”
Around 6 p.m., the officer was out of surgery, according to UTMB. At an earlier briefing, UTMB Hospital doctors explained that Barnes, who was shot in the elbow, was expected to come out of surgery “in the next couple of hours” as surgeons finished the exacting work of fixing the damage caused by the multiple projectiles of a shotgun blast.
Chief Medical Officer Gulshan Sharma said surgeons were repairing injuries to the bone and blood vessel in Barnes’ elbow.
Santa Fe ISD Police Office John Barnes with wife Ashley. Barnes was wounded by the Santa Fe High School shooter and remains in critical condition in UTMB Hospital in Galveston #Prayers pic.twitter.com/qSd9UaLhbL
— Blue Alert (@BlueAlertUs) May 19, 2018
Immediately following the shooting, Barnes was “bleeding out and his blood pressure was very low,” Sharma said. By Friday afternoon, Barnes’ vital signs were stable and showed some “good signs at this point.”
But for hours after the shooting, reports whipsawed back and forth about his condition, rattling his former colleagues.
Around 2:30 p.m., Chief Art Acevedo said in a tweet that Barnes was “hanging in there” and that his family was “very hopeful.”
“John is known for his tireless work in Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force,” Acevedo also tweeted.
The senior police officer joined HPD in 1995, and worked in southwest patrol for years before transferring to an investigations assignment in 2005.
Barnes, according to records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, started his career working as a jailer and deputy for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. Over the course of his career, he accumulated almost 6,000 training hours and numerous department awards for his investigative work. In 2008, he was named Reactive Investigator of the year for his work on an internet sex crimes case, according to Badge and Gun, the magazine published by the Houston Police Officers’ Union.
Dale and Barnes met in 1994 when they attended the HPD academy.
Barnes — who they nicknamed “Tarrant County” — told other officers they should all watch the 1973 movie “Serpico,” he recalled. It was a reference to the true story of a dogged New York City police detectives who fought rampant corruption on the force.
“He didn’t want anything to taint the badge,” Dale said. “He had the utmost respect for the profession.”
After a decade in the patrol division, Barnes became a detective, investigating pedophiles and sexual predators. In January, he retired from HPD after more than two decades. On Jan. 5, Barnes joined the Santa Fe ISD police department, a move that would let him work closer to his home in League City. He has a wife — a teacher in Santa Fe ISD who works at another school in the district — and a son and daughter.
“I can live down there closer to the family and live the easy life,” Dale recalled Barnes telling him. “Now you look back at it and think, ‘there’s no such thing as an easy life’ in this profession.”
The shooting occurred on the last day of National Police Week, 12 hours before Houston police officers were set to gather at the Houston Police Officers Memorial to mourn comrades who have died in the line of duty, including Sgt. Steve Perez, the 61-year-old officer who died in the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey last year.
“It’s a really emotional rollercoaster,” Dale said. He was grateful his friend had survived, but also thinking of all the children killed in the shooting.
“You’ve got 10 students’ parents who won’t have the summer to look forward to,” he said. “Or graduation next week. They’re going to have to bury them.”
Jacob Carpenter and Lise Olsen contributed to this report.
©2018 the Houston Chronicle