Benjamin Barnes often wore camouflage and a hat, he usually carried a backpack and a fishing pole. Ben was polite and soft-spoken — in a homeless shelter, you notice these traits in people, you appreciate them. Ben did not spend a lot of time at our shelter, he would come in to take showers and to pick-up his mail — Ben got a lot of mail. I don’t know where Ben slept, but I assume it was outside mostly, based on what he carried with him.
We occasionally have small fights break out at our shelter — Ben never got into a fight. We often have to ask people to stop swearing or watch their language — this was not the case with Ben. There are times when we call the Mobile Crisis Unit to have someone’s mental health evaluated, someone who seems like they are really struggling or on the edge of a mental break — I never made a call because I was worried about Ben.
This past Saturday Ben did something terrible: he threatened people’s lives, he shot and killed a dog, someone’s beloved pet, and he shot at Boise police officers. These are terrible things. And a man died. Ben died.
When I heard the news about the shooting in the foothills of Boise, because I help to run Boise’s homeless day shelter, I worried that the person who had died would be someone that I knew. It was. It was Ben Barnes. Mild-mannered Ben Barnes. Fishing-pole-carrying Ben Barnes. Ben Barnes, who was created in the image of God with limitless potential.
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I do not know how Ben came to be a citizen without a home, nor do I know what caused Ben’s aggressive and life-threatening actions on Saturday. I do know that a man’s life has come to a tragic end, that many people who were close to the events that led to his death experienced a major trauma, and that good police officers were forced to pull their weapons and take a life — a traumatic event for them.
There is a lot of understandable fear because of Ben’s actions: a gun was pulled in our safe city; a shooting occurred in the secure sanctuary of our foothills; for a day our sacred place of respite and renewal became a place of fear and death. I am sorry for the fear and desecration that Ben caused, especially for those of you involved and those of you who live near these trails. I am sorry for the officers who had to respond to this event. And I am sorry for Ben. Whatever the circumstances that pushed him toward this tragic end, he is gone. A man has died. A child of God is dead. Benjamin Barnes is dead.
In our shock and fear, let us also remember our shared humanity: Ben often wore camouflage and a hat, he usually carried a backpack and a fishing pole.
Marc Schlegel-Preheim is Mission Coordinator of Corpus Christi House, a homeless day shelter in Boise, and the pastor of Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship.