To outsiders, Lewis and Robin Barber had a wonderful life. Their house on West Wyatt Avenue in Del Ray resembled the postcard image of American life. Lewis used his skills as a carpenter to build a handicapped accessible wheelchair ramp for his church, where he was a vestryman. He was a Little League coach for the Mount Vernon Fireballs.
But the events of last week changed all that.
After abducting his 9-year-old son at gunpoint, Lewis Barber instigated a 20-hour standoff with police. It ended when police shot and killed the armed 48-year-old Alexandria man on the front steps of his house, where he had lived for 20 years.
The commonwealth attorney's office will review the Police Department's internal investigation that has already begun. "Our policy regarding use of force is that our officers are allowed to use force that is equal to what they are being presented with," said Police Department Public Information Officer Amy Bertsch. "All of our officers have extensive training on the use of force."
She said that a second internal investigation has been initiated to review the use-of-force policy and whether it is appropriate.
TENSIONS BETWEEN the couple persuaded Robin Barber that it was time to leave. According to a protective order that was filed at the Alexandria Courthouse on April 22, she was concerned that his violent temper would explode into an alcohol-fueled rage that might end in gunfire.
"I am moving out Sat 2/23/05 with our son. Lewis does not know," she wrote in an affidavit to support the protective order. "Our son will not be there Sat. morning when I tell him. There are weapons in the house and I know Lewis will start drinking heavily. Lewis is a very quiet man and very unpredictable."
When officials arrived at the Barber house on Saturday to serve the protective order, Robin Barber moved out of the house under police protection — taking custody of the son. A neighbor remembers seeing a moving van pull up to the house with several men moving items out of the house. He said Lewis Barber seemed calm, signing papers on the front porch. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
On Tuesday, Lewis Barber went to the Alexandria Courthouse to file a response to the protective order. He wrote Robin's name using a heart, explaining that "Robin and I have been together constantly since September 26 (1/26/92)."
His explanation of the rising tensions between the two sought to minimize their differences and defend himself against charges that he might become violent.
"While she may have made me mad, I have never harmed or threatened to harm. All my guns are Civil War or Revolutionary war re-enactment pieces. She had the modern pistol."
He disputed the claim that he was a heavy drinker.
"As for my drinking," he wrote. "That's a lie."
LEWIS BARBER had three drunk driving convictions on file at the Alexandria Courthouse. In 1998, the court ordered a habitual offender evaluation in which the court-appointed addictions counselor determined that Barber had an "anger problem," and that drinking caused him to have "two different personalities." Another counselor examined Barber and determined that he "may be suffering from 'dry drunk' syndrome — his body language presented a depressed individual."
Members of the Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Hill remember a different man — a respected member of the vestry who would use his skills as a carpenter to help the church behind the scenes.
"He was a very modest man, and he did a lot of work for the church that nobody knew about," said Doug John, junior warden at the church, noting that Barber also built a bridge across a well and created a system to illuminate pumpkins during the church's Halloween sale. "He was a very devoted dad, always interested in his son's development — trying to get him to sing in the church's youth choir — things like that."
John remembers the son idolizing the father, even growing a pony tail to resemble his father's. He also remembers seeing Barber and his son in church most Sundays, and Robin Barber would join them more often than not. He joined church members on a recent fishing trip, where John remembers talking to him at length about a number of subjects.
"His long hair and bushy mustache made him look like a real Renaissance man, and that's why I gravitated toward him," said John, who described himself as a "great admirer" of Barber. "He was certainly a man cut from a different cloth."
AFTER FILING his response to the restraining order at the courthouse, Barber went looking for his wife and son. He arrived at the Rock It Grill on King Street, where she was a bartender. The boy was abducted at gunpoint and taken to the house on Wyatt Street, where police spent all night and most of the next day trying to coax Barber into releasing the boy and relinquishing his weapon.
A neighbor, who lives across the street and was not evacuated from his home during the stand-off, remembers hearing police use the loudspeaker to ask Lewis to let them know he was all right. After dawn, he remembers hearing police ask the boy to let them know he was all right. In the late afternoon, police were heard yelling, "Put the gun down, Lew, put the gun down!"
At that point, the neighbor said, three gunshots were heard followed by two or three loud thumping sounds — the kind of firepower that is so strong that it vibrates walls. Lewis Barber collapsed on the front steps of his home.
WHEN ROBIN BARBER left the house three days before, it was not the first time that Lewis Barber had been abandoned. In late 1985, Paulette Barber — Lewis' first wife — abruptly left to live with relatives in Texas. But, unlike Robin, Paulette left the children behind. Divorce records indicate that the two boys from that marriage went to live with his parents on the Northern Neck.
One child later died of a brain tumor. The other son, now 21, has recently been deployed to Iraq.
Paulette Barber did not attend the court proceedings, which granted custody of the two boys to John and Francene Barber, who lived on a farm in Warsaw.