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Posted on Sat, Nov. 02, 2002
ADAM L. CATALDO, Staff Writer
14-year-old helped younger brother to escape, but she stayed
LINCOLNTON – Amanda Barnhardt died trying to protect her mother and brother from her stepfather. She was 14.
The girl and her mother were killed Friday morning after Amanda’s estranged stepfather shot his way into their apartment at 502 N. Grove St., police said.
Her 10-year-old brother, Bobby Barnhardt, escaped harm.
Bobby told police the sound of a gunshot woke him up. He grabbed a baseball bat, but Amanda unlocked a door to a back stairwell and told him to leave. He urged her to come with him, but she wanted to stay by her wounded mother’s side. He fled to a neighbor’s house.
“Amanda was very courageous,” said Lt. Dean Abernathy of the Lincolnton Police Department. “Not only do I think she saved him, but she was trying to save her mother. It appears she had the opportunity to leave when he did, and she chose to stay with her mother.”
Police found Amanda dead inside the apartment along with her mother, Gael Morrison, 35, and stepfather Kevin Patrick Morrison, 39.
Friends of the family said her mother recently had begun separation procedures to end her rocky marriage.
Amanda Barnhardt was often selfless, said friend and fellow Lincolnton High School freshman Alex Allran, 14.
“I just want everybody to know that she was a hero, and that she really would give her life to save somebody else’s,” she said.
Kevin Morrison was an upholsterer at Bradington-Young Inc. in Cherryville, the furniture company’s spokesman Ben Causey said. He wasn’t scheduled to work Friday because the plant was closed for the day.
He married Gael Morrison in May 2000. Lincoln County court records show the relationship was strained.
The Morrisons filed for bankruptcy in November 2001. They filed restraining orders against each other in July.
Kevin Morrison said his wife’s children threatened him and his 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
Gael Morrison alleged that her husband sliced tents with a knife and smashed fishing poles during a family camping trip.
Allison Allran, 39, mother of Amanda’s schoolmate, said Gael Morrison recently told her the couple were separating.
People whose children were friends of Amanda and her brother said Kevin Morrison made them uneasy.
“He kept to himself. It always gave me the willies,” said Sandra Helms, 39.
“We always sensed there was something wrong, and we were always cautious about letting the kids spend the night over there.”
Kevin Morrison’s family said they were shocked by Friday’s killings because he was not a violent man. Jim Morrison said his son was taking medication for depression.
“Kevin was a wonderful brother and a good daddy,” said Bill Morrison, 41, Kevin’s brother.
Police said they received a call at 6:38 a.m. Friday about gunshots at the apartment which is just a short walk from downtown Lincolnton. The residence is also close to Lincolnton High School.
Gael Morrison’s next-door neighbor, Anna Lisa Johannessen, 38, said she called police to report Kevin Morrison was shooting at the apartment’s main entrance which is visible from the side of the home. Johannessen said she saw him struggle to get through, and it looked like someone was blocking the door.
She said when he finally pushed the door opened, he fired twice and went in, closing the door behind him.
“That was the loudest gun I ever heard in my life,” Johannessen said. “It was like a cannon.”
Lt. Abernathy said police believed the gun to be a .44-caliber Magnum revolver.
Police initially believed Kevin Morrison was holding his wife and stepchildren hostage. Bobby Barnhardt drew a floor plan of the apartment for police at a neighbor’s home.
When police couldn’t get anyone inside the apartment to answer a phone call, two officers went up the back stairwell and entered the apartment, Abernathy said. They found Gael Morrison and Amanda Barnhardt dead on the floor of the living room. Both had multiple chest wounds. Morrison was found dead nearby, sitting with his back against the wall, Abernathy said. He had a single gunshot wound to his left eye.
Abernathy, a 25-year veteran of the Police Department, said the killings were Lincolnton’s first murders this year.
Police said the children’s father, who lives in South Carolina, drove to Lincolnton after the incident. Bobby was staying with him Friday night.
Lincolnton High School honored Amanda at Friday night’s football game with a moment of silence.
People who gathered near the apartment Friday afternoon said Amanda was athletic and an excellent student. They said she was devoted to her friends and family.
“There is no doubt that she saved Bobby’s life,” said Detective Brian Greene of the Lincolnton Police Department.
Staff writer Alice Gregory contributed to this article.