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Army knew of soldier's deadly threats

Published October 12, 2010 1:59 pm

Video • Chilling security footage from the Grand America Hotel, police photographs illustrate how close Utah came to an even more tragic incident.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Army knew days ahead of time that a distraught soldier, recently home from the war in Afghanistan, intended to come to Utah to "make a statement," but officials investigating a series of alarming messages from Spc. Brandon Barrett did not warn local law enforcement of the threats.

Barrett, wearing full body armor and carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition, shot a Salt Lake City police officer in the leg during a gunfight that ended when the wounded officer fired back, killing the soldier with a shot to the head.

"The first thing we knew about Mr. Barrett was when he encountered him on the street," Salt Lake City police spokeswoman Lara Jones said Monday — the same day the department provided The Salt Lake Tribune with scores of photos and several videos that further emphasize how narrowly the city came to an even greater tragedy on the afternoon of Aug. 27.

Shane Barrett, a Tucson police detective who has been harshly critical of the way the military treated his brother upon his return from Afghanistan, believes the Army also failed the people of Salt Lake City.

Barrett said Army investigators were aware that his brother, who had gone AWOL from Washington's Joint Base Lewis-McChord following a public reprimand by a senior sergeant, was headed to Utah — and that he wanted to "make a statement," according to text messages he sent to several soldiers with whom he fought in Afghanistan.

In one message, Shane Barrett said, his brother had pledged to "make a name for myself"; in another he had told his friends to "watch the news" in Utah.

One text message warned: "It's almost over — 36 hours from now I'll be dead. I've got one hell of an argument and about 1,000 rounds to prove my point," according to a member of Barrett's unit.

The videos •In security video footage from the downtown Grand America Hotel, beginning at 3:31 p.m. on that Friday, Barrett's shadowy figure can be seen walking slowly through the parking garage. In the video, the soldier — who was carrying an AR-15 assault rifle and two handguns — appears to halt momentarily as a passing car stops ahead of him, but continues toward the hotel's public entrance as the car's driver makes a sharp turn and drives away.

In a second video, Barrett can be seen — more clearly, now, in camouflage fatigues, a protective vest and a helmet — walking through two sets of double doors from the parking garage to an elevator that leads to the hotel's main lobby. As he moves toward the lift, he passes two individuals who appear to stare dumbfounded at the surreal sight of a battle-dressed soldier at the city's most opulent hotel.

Forty seconds pass as a woman in the video, hotel security officer Robyn Salmon, addresses Barrett — a conversation that she recounted in an awards ceremony two weeks after the deadly incident.

"Excuse me, sir. Can I help you?" Salmon remembered asking.

"I need to go up," Barrett replied.

Salmon told the soldier that he could not go upstairs.

"OK then," Barrett calmly responded. "You better call the police."

At 3:33 p.m., Barrett follows Salmon back out the doors and into the parking garage, where he crosses between two cars stopped at the ticket booth and heads up a ramp leading to a parking lot on the corner of State Street and 600 South.

In a final, chilling video, Barrett is seen wandering aimlessly through the parking lot as dozens of cars pass on 600 South. At 3:35 p.m., the soldier steps out of the picture — only to be picked up again as hotel security agents, apparently alerted to Barrett's presence by Salmon — adjust the camera's aim to find him pacing alongside a long hedge separating the parking lot from traffic on State Street.

For four minutes, the camera tracks Barrett's movements as he continues to walk, back and forth, along the hedge, always with his rifle trained toward the ground. In the background, dozens of cars pass through one of the city's busiest intersections and, at one point, a group of people can be seen walking within yards of where the soldier was standing.

At 3:40 p.m., the video ends.

The rest of the story •Crime scene photographs help illustrate the rest of the story. Police investigating the shooting found at least eight bullet casings on the ground near where Barrett fired at Officer Uppsen Downes, who had been waiting for the light to change on State Street at 600 South when someone knocked on his window to alert him to the soldier's presence on the hotel corner.

At the awards ceremony, last month, Downes said he asked Barrett to lower his weapon.

"He didn't even wait for me to finish," Downes said.

Barrett opened fire, hitting Downes in the leg and spraying his cruiser with bullets. The photos show that three shots went through the windshield. Another hit a tire. Another shattered a headlight. Yet another pierced the car above the wheel well, just inches above an American flag decal.

One bullet crashed through the driver's-side window of a truck parked across State Street. Another glanced off a sports utility vehicle heading down the same road.

Downes, returning fire, sent two shots toward the hotel — one hit a column near the parking entrance, another hit a wall near a first-story window. A third shot struck Barrett in the head, killing him instantly.

Some say it all could have been avoided.

The investigation into Barrett's threats began at least a week before his final deadly encounter with Downes. But Salt Lake police say they weren't given any warnings by military investigators.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said Tuesday that he has had a conversation with investigators from Lewis-McChord about "what could have happened and what should have happened."

Burbank said his department tries to share as much information as possible with colleagues in other jurisdictions when there is concern for public safety.

While noting that it is easy to criticize in retrospect and saying he didn't want to point fingers, Burbank said that if his department had more information it may have chosen to enlist the public, through the media, to keep watch for Barrett, and could have prepared its officers in other ways.

Whether that would have changed anything, Burbank said, was a matter of speculation.

Either way, he said, "The system failed this individual... who was not prepared," to deal with his transition back from war. "He served his country and lost his life at the hands of a Salt Lake City police officer," Burbank said.

Burbank again commended that officer — as did Barrett's family.

"Thank God for Officer Downes," Shane Barrett said. "But he shouldn't have been put in that situation. There should have been some warning."

Lewis-McChord officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Army records show investigators were worried about a mass shooting. But Shane Barrett and many of his brother's Army comrades believe that the distraught soldier was attempting to commit "suicide by cop." They note that the video and witness statements demonstrate that Barrett had numerous encounters with civilians without raising his rifle.

And one soldier said he doesn't believe Barrett was trying to hurt Downes, either.

"Brandon was one of the best shots I ever worked with," the soldier said. "We learned how to head-shot guys at 100 yards — like it was nothing."

And Barrett had done just that, repeatedly, at war, the soldier said.

That doesn't in any way excuse what Barrett did in Salt Lake City, the soldier said, "but he was trying to get us to stop him. The messages he sent were a cry for help and he didn't get it. They absolutely knew what was coming — and they didn't do anything about it."

mlaplante@sltrib.com

Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle contributed to this report. More Video: Aug. 27, 2010 surveillance footage:

http://extras.sltrib.com/video/Militaryshot2.avi

http://extras.sltrib.com/video/Militaryshot3.avi