Boeing whistleblower John Barnett died by suicide, coroner rules


Boeing whistleblower John “Mitch” Barnett took his own life on March 9, South Carolina authorities reiterated in two reports released Friday. All findings suggest he died from a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Barnett, 62, was found dead in his truck in Charleston, S.C. He was in the midst of giving depositions alleging Boeing retaliated against him for complaints about quality lapses, and was scheduled to continue depositions the day his body was found.

As he was a Boeing whistleblower caught up in a long legal fight with his embattled former employer, Barnett’s death received global attention. That attention intensified this month when a second whistleblower, Joshua Dean of Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems, died from an infection.

Immediately after his death, Barnett’s attorneys, Robert Turkewitz and Brian Knowles, called for an investigation into his death and said at the time there was no indication he would take his own life.

The Charleston Police Department and Charleston County Coroner’s Office separately released detailed reports Friday that included nearly 100 pages of incident reports, a 911 recording from the hotel worker who found Barnett, and a photo of the note Barnett left behind.

“We remain acutely aware of the sensitivity and public interest surrounding this case,” police said in a statement Friday. “It is important to emphasize that our investigation was guided strictly by facts and evidence while remaining undisturbed by conjecture and external pressures.

“As this investigation comes to a close, we should not forget it represents the loss of Mr. Barnett’s life.”

A review of medical records and interviews found that Barnett was under chronic stress because of his whistleblower case, was experiencing anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and was grieving the 2022 death of his wife, according to the coroner’s report.

Investigators recovered surveillance footage showing Barnett leaving a Holiday Inn the evening of March 8. His Dodge Ram is then seen backing into a parking space minutes later. The truck remained in the parking spot throughout the night of March 8 and into the morning of March 9, video footage showed. No one else entered or exited the truck, nor did anyone approach the truck.

The vehicle brake lights blinked on and off around 7:20 a.m. March 9, the coroner’s report said. A Holiday Inn worker told officers he heard a “pop” sound that morning, but didn’t think anything of it.

Barnett’s attorneys called him around 9 a.m. When he didn’t answer, they called the hotel and asked for a welfare check. Hotel employees searched the hotel and parking lot, according to the report, and found Barnett dead in his truck, which was locked.

There was no evidence of anyone forcing their way into Barnett’s truck, and the key fob was found in his pants pocket, according to Charleston police. Barnett legally bought the handgun in 2000.

A note was found next to Barnett that included references to Boeing and appeared to have been written erratically.

Barnett was consistently at the site of his depositions or his hotel, according to the Police Department. Cellphone records showed no unusual travel patterns or communication. No one else used his key card to access his hotel room, where he had left his wallet, clothes, laptop and several USB drives.

Barnett worked for Boeing for 32 years. He started as an electrician on the 747 jumbo jet program in Everett and worked his way to manager of a quality organization. He transferred to the 787 plant in North Charleston, S.C., in 2010 and two years later received his first performance downgrade.

He reported being harassed for insisting on sticking to quality procedures and refused to sign off on defective work. He submitted an internal ethics complaint, which went nowhere.

He filed a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in January 2017 and took early retirement in March 2017. He described himself as “broken” by Boeing.

In retirement, Barnett enjoyed dirt-track car racing and was known affectionately as “SwampDawg” in the car racing community, according to an obituary. He was known as the fun uncle to his nieces and nephews.

“John will be dearly missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him,” family members wrote in his obituary.

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