Officer John Barnes was the first to confront the gunman during Friday's school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas

By Greg Hanlon Christine Pelisek
May 19, 2018 02:27 PM

The hero school police officer who was shot while confronting the gunman during Friday’s mass shooting in Texas “flatlined” twice afterward and might lose his arm, but a friend and relative tell PEOPLE they believe he will survive.

Ten people were killed and 13 were injured during the shooting at Santa Fe High School, but the toll could have been much worse had not school police officer John Barnes, 49, confronted the gunman. Governor Greg Abbott said Barnes and another officer arrived “early in the process,” adding, “Their actions probably ensured that more lives were not lost.”

Frank Flaherty, the husband of Barnes’ cousin, tells PEOPLE that Barnes, a former Houston police officer who became a Santa Fe Independent School District officer in 2018, was the first to respond to the art classroom in which the shooting took place and was shot multiple times while opening the door.

Captain Jim Dale, a Houston police captain and friend of Barnes’, tells PEOPLE that after Barnes confronted the suspect, a Texas Department of Public Safety officer shot one round at the suspect, at which point the suspect, identified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, surrendered.

On Friday, officials at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital in Galveston told PEOPLE that Barnes was in critical condition. On Saturday, Flaherty described Barnes’ condition as “more stable.”

Dale says Barnes “will more than likely lose his right arm” because of the wounds he sustained. Barnes was shot in both the left arm and the right arm, “but the right arm got the brunt of it,” says Dale.

Flaherty says Barnes lost massive amounts of blood and expired twice before being resuscitated: once in the helicopter on the way to the hospital and once while undergoing surgery. Barnes is currently heavily sedated.

“The life-threatening part of this is looking better but we don’t know the full extent of where things are gonna be,” says Flaherty.

Dale says he has no doubt Barnes saved lives, saying, “He knew that every second he waits, there is another loss of life so he went in there as quick as possible. Once you engage the suspect the suspect has now turned his attention to the officer.”

John Barnes
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Adds Flaherty, “Imagine if it was your kids in that art room, and [Barnes] was the one that stood between them being on this earth and not. We’re looking for that person to step and say ‘No. this isn’t gonna happen,’ and that was John.”

The suspect is being held in the Galveston County Jail with no bond on capital murder charges. It is not clear if he has entered a plea or retained an attorney.

Flaherty described Barnes as a “cop’s cop” — the consummate helper and reliable source of support who loved his family and the Houston Astros.

A married father of two, Barnes left the HPD for Santa Fe ISD so he could spend more time with his family in their League City home, says Flaherty.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said on Twitter that Barnes was with the department from 1995 until retiring in 2018. “John is known for his tireless work in Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force,” Acevedo wrote.

Dale says Barnes received numerous awards for his work fighting sex crimes against children.

“It’s emotionally tolling,” says Dale. “The shelf-life of that job is pretty short because of what you see and deal with. He did a lot of work with helping children and he received numerous awards.”

Dale went to the police academy with Barnes decades ago, and recalled that Barnes encouraged other officers-in-training to watch the Al Pacino movie Serpico, based on the true story of an honest New York City policeman who fights against the corruption of his fellow officers.

“Looking back on that that’s who he was, so passionate and excited,” says Dale, adding, “I knew right then the strong moral character that John had.”

Barnes’ family has launched a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical expenses.

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