JONESVILLE — Events that transpired on June 22, when alleged gunman James Barrett terrorized a neighborhood, have left many residents in the Ronda and Jonesville communities in a state of shock and disbelief. The events that transpired on North River Ridge Road during the early morning hours will remain one of the most harrowing acts of terrorism to rock the peaceful community.
Early Monday morning, Kent Suddreth was awakened by what he thought was a goat that had gotten out of the fence.
“I think I made my 911 call at about 5:40 a.m.,” said Suddreth during an interview Friday afternoon.
His wife Teresa had just left to take one of their sons to work. “I’m just going to tell you the whole thing was a miracle that they weren’t home. Her alarm clock was an hour early and they didn’t realize it. It’s just a miracle that they didn’t turn around and come back.”
When his wife left the house, all the lights were on. “I heard something popping and thought it was the broom handle in the kitchen,” said Suddreth, who found debris littering the kitchen floor. “I hear something scuffling at the window and I see the window pane is already busted. Actually, I thought my goat was out and had busted the window.”
As Suddreth was still exploring the scene, a window broke near him. “That’s when I got hit in the stomach,” said Suddreth. “I turned and noticed the window in the back was busted so he’d already shot several flares but they were going straight through the house.”
Suddreth’s initial thought was that someone was shooting fireworks through his home after seeing something twirl around after striking him. “I didn’t know it was flares. I didn’t know what hit me.”
After hearing the commotion, Suddreth’s 15-year-old son Colt came downstairs. “I grabbed him to get him in the bedroom with me and make a 911 call,” said Suddreth. “I was bleeding pretty bad so I grabbed a towel on my belly and then called my mom and said, ‘Mom, I don’t know what’s going on but someone’s shooting fireworks through the house.’”
Suddreth’s mother, who lived across the street, observed a fire at Suddreth’s nearby auto shop. After cracking his front door and believing the coast was all clear, Suddreth made the decision to go outside in attempt to extinguish the fire.
“My little boy says, ‘Don’t go out! Don’t go out!’” said Suddreth, who could already hear sirens on their way to his home. “I say, ‘Whoever this is is not going to be here whenever the sheriff’s department gets here.’ So I go out there in the driveway and find the garden hose and head towards the truck. I’m holding the towel on my stomach but I’m afraid the truck is going to catch the shop on fire.”
Once Suddreth approached the truck he spotted the culprit at the corner of the shop and grasped the severity of the situation. James Barrett was standing in front of him, armed with an AK-47, said Suddreth.
At the same time, Suddreth saw the headlights from the truck belonging to his neighbor Zach Myers. “I see a flash of him in my peripheral vision,” said Suddreth. “Zach comes down in the morning at the same time to feed his cows. It’s like clockwork, same time every morning. I think Barrett knew that, too.”
The popping and cracking of the burning truck and the smoke overshadowed the shots fired by Barrett at Myers’ truck but Suddreth believes that’s when he shot him. “When I come around the corner of the building there he stands with an AK and he had it pointed down the road where he had shot Zach and Zach’s truck had come to a stop,” said Suddreth. “I startled him I guess. He wasn’t expecting me at that point and when I saw his truck and him standing there, next thing I knew, that’s when I panic. I told Colt, ‘Run! Run! Run!’”
The two made a sprint toward the house. “I don’t know if he makes it and he don’t know if I make it,” said Suddreth, who found shelter in the woods while his son ran to the house. “I run about 100 yards as hard as I can run and I just lay down in the thicket, trying to make sure he’s not coming.”
As Suddreth laid in the thicket for what felt to him like an eternity, he contemplated how to get back to his son and 12-year-old daughter who is asleep in the house.
“I see a sheriff’s car coming down the road I’m thinking we’re good now, everything’s going to be all right,” said Suddreth.
From his viewpoint and to his dismay, he watched Barrett fire at the deputy as he approached the home. “You can see him at the house as he opens fire on it. I don’t know how many times he hit the car, but you can hear it ting, ting, ting, ting,” said Suddreth.
At that moment, the deputy reversed the vehicle and backed into the woods. “I’m thinking he got him. I see smoke coming up. He doesn’t return any fire so I’m thinking he’s hit.”
As Suddreth watched from the thicket, he saw sherriff’s deputies arriving after a matter of minutes. Instead of driving up to the home, they stop up the street, short of the crime scene. “I can see them but I’m laying here thinking what am I going to do,” said Suddreth. “If I can get to them and let them know… There’s a fence about 30 yards and I make up my mind I’m going to sprint to the woods on the other side and get out of sight and go above them and come back around. So that’s what I do.”
As Suddreth made his move, he saw Myers’ truck coming up the road, arriving at nearly the same time as Suddreth.
“I think what happened is… after his truck came to a stop James shot a flare into his back seat to catch his truck on fire,” Suddreth said. “When I came out and startled him he came after me and Zach came to and they say that’s how Zach got away.”
Suddreth said that after gaining consciousness, Myers called 911 and was informed they were unable to get to him. “So Zach finally told them, ‘If you can’t get to me then I’m coming to you,’ and he lays down in his seat and flies back out,” said Suddreth. “He does take fire, but he doesn’t get hit again.”
As Suddreth and Myers escaped the gunman, they were quickly evacuated by the deputies to Armstrong Road, where Myers is immediately taken by ambulance to the hospital. “I told them I’m OK and to take care of him,” said Suddreth, still unaware of the severity of his injury from the flare gun.
While the events were transpiring, Suddreth’s mother Lois Suddreth was watching everything from her carport. “I go outside and I hear shots and I keep standing there and I see him run around the house,” Lois said of watching her son during the early morning events.
As she watched, she observed as her grandson ran through the house while on the phone with 911. “He comes to my house and I’m still outside and he says, ‘Let’s get in the house he’s got a gun,’” Lois said. “So we go in the house and we look back out and I see the man. I hadn’t seen the man until then, but he’s just walking around out there with a gun. He walks around out there for a little while then he gets in his truck and he pulls his truck somewhere, but I keep hearing shots fired but I don’t know who he’s shooting at. Then he walked back up to the house and into the house with a gallon jug.”
That’s when the horrific events take another turn for the worse. “And he comes back out and went down the road then I saw the black smoke,” said Lois.
“My little girl was still in the bed,” said Suddreth of his daughter.
At this time, Lois was on the phone with police, informing them of the danger. “It just so happens the fire alarm goes off and the alarm woke her up,” said Lois. “But she jumps out of bed and runs out on the garage side where I’m yelling at her, ‘Go back! Go back! Don’t go that way!’ So she runs back out of the house and out the front door where he couldn’t see her.”
At that time the police spotted her. “They got on the mega phone and started yelling, ‘Go back in! Go back in!’ But the house was on fire and I could see it.”
In an act of courage, Lois went back outside where she could remain out of site of the gunman, yet visible to her granddaughter. “I yelled at her, ‘Come to me! Run as hard as you can run! Don’t slow down!’ So she ran as fast as she could run and she was all distraught. She woke up in the house with the fire alarm, not knowing where anybody was, smoke, couldn’t find her momma or daddy and ran into my house.”
Lois took the girl and placed her in the safest part of her home before returning to the window. As she watched the gunman, she observed him pull his truck up to the garage and stuff rags into the gas tank before lighting the vehicles on fire.
“Then he walks back down to his truck and reloads his gun and just sits in the road,” said Lois. “I told them he looks like he wants someone to shoot him. He’s right out in the open, why can’t someone shoot him?”
Earlier, before Barrett parked his truck in the road, deputies made an attempt to rescue Lois and her grandchildren from harms way. “The sheriff and deputy decide they’re going to come up there and get me,” said Lois. “They missed my driveway and went right up to him and they took on fire. They couldn’t back up, they had to keep going.”
According to Suddreth, that was the moment Sgt. Steven Russell was shot while riding in the back of the SUV.
Throughout the ordeal, Lois remained on the phone with deputies. “He pointed his gun at my house several times and I would run and get to a safe place but he never shot a single shot at my house,” said Lois. “I’d wait a few minutes, when I didn’t hear a shot I’d go back to the window.”
In the final moments of the standoff, Lois observed Barrett reload his gun before coming into clear view from Lois’ window. “As he came around the back of the truck on the driver’s side where I had a wide open view of him, he crouched like he seen something and I thought, ‘I wonder what he saw,’” said Lois, who hadn’t seen deputies in several hours of the five-hour ordeal.
“He crouched down and just immediately I heard a shot and the gun came out of his hands,” said Lois. “And immediately there was a second shot and I saw the blood. I really believe he was dead immediately.”
Once she saw Barrett go down, the armored vehicle pulled up to rescue Lois and her grandchildren. “When it was over my emotions just cut loose because I’d been holding it for five hours and it was horrible,” said Lois.
Suddreth, a man of faith, thanks God for protecting his family including the inexplicable way his wife and son left the house just before the events occurred. “I just thank the man upstairs,” said Suddreth.
The family also thanked the community for the tremendous support and outreach during the time following the events. Prayer vigils, donations and kind words have been greatly appreciated by the family.
As far as the reason why Barrett chose to attack the family, “We hear rumors, but I don’t really know why,” said Suddreth.
Karen Holbrook may be reached at 336-258-4059 or on Twitter @KarenHolbrook00.