Coroner: Boeing Whistleblower’s Death Was a Suicide

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Wikimedia Commons
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Wikimedia Commons

A South Carolina coroner has found that John Barnett, the former Boeing quality-control engineer who blew the whistle on alleged safety concerns at the aircraft giant, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Barnett, who was in Charleston for a deposition in his whistleblower lawsuit against Boeing, was found in the driver’s seat of his locked orange Dodge Ram truck at a Holiday Inn parking lot on March 9. Next to him was a notebook that contained “writing resembling a suicide note,” a Charleston County Coroner’s report said.

“The writings found in the vehicle were examined by the Charleston Police Department and found only Mr. Barnett’s fingerprints on the notebook,” the report said. “The writings contained information known only to his family.”

The report marks the end of the investigation into the death of Barnett, a 32-year Boeing veteran who publicly revealed in 2019 that he found faulty emergency oxygen bottles while working on the 787 Dreamliner. He sued Boeing after claiming the company stalled his complaint and pushed him into retirement. (Boeing has denied any wrongdoing.)

Boeing Executives Can’t Keep Getting Away With This

After he was found dead, his attorneys said the 62-year-old Louisianan never gave “any indication he would take his own life.” His family also told The Daily Beast in March that he was in “very good spirits” and was excited to complete the deposition in the case against Boeing.

“John was a brave, honest man of the highest integrity,” the family said in a statement at the time. “We need more information about what happened to John. The Charleston police need to investigate this fully and accurately and tell the public what they find out. No detail can be left unturned.”

The Charleston County Police Department investigation states Barnett was last seen leaving the Holiday Inn on March 8 and backing into a spot in the hotel parking lot at around 8:37 p.m. Authorities found him in the car 13 hours later.

The coroner’s report states that Barnett was wearing a “multicolored sleeveless shirt, denim pants, and black belt.”

“A pair of blue denim slip-on shoes were noted on the floor of the driver’s seat adjacent to the gas pedal,” the report states. “A semi-automatic Smith & Wesson pistol, a loaded magazine, and unfired 9mm Luger cartridges were located on the vehicle console.”

Authorities say that in interviews with Barnett’s family, attorneys, and doctors, they learned the former engineer “was under chronic stress in the context of the lawsuit, suffered from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and grieved the death of his wife.” His lawyers also revealed that Barnett was increasing his dose of anti-anxiety medication while he was in Charleston.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Charleston County Coroner Bobbi Jo O’Neal said it was an honor to work with the Barnett family during “this difficult time.

“It is my hope that the world will remember John Barnett not for the manner in which he died, but for the manner in which he lived,” he said.

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing or texting 988.

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